Hurricane CARLA Hits Texas Coast, Sept 1961

Damage at Galveston Texas Pleasure Pier Galveston Texas Port Aransas Causeway Padre Island Causeway Port O'Connor Texas High Tide and Hurricane Winds of Carla

Hurricane Carla ranks as the most intense U.S. tropical cyclone landfall on the Hurricane Severity Index. The third named storm and first Category 5 hurricane of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season, Carla developed from an area of squally weather in the southwestern Caribbean Sea on September 3. Initially a tropical depression, it strengthened slowly while heading northwestward, and by September 5, the system was upgraded to Tropical Storm Carla. About 24 hours later, Carla was upgraded to a hurricane. Shortly thereafter, the storm curved northward while approaching the Yucatán Channel. Late on September 7, Carla entered the Gulf of Mexico while passing just northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula. By early on the following day, the storm became a major hurricane after reaching Category 3 intensity. Resuming its northwestward course, Carla continued intensification and on September 11, it was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane. Later that day, Carla weakened slightly, but was still a large and intense hurricane when the storm made landfall near Port O'Connor, Texas. It weakened quickly inland and was reduced to a tropical storm on September 12. Heading generally northward, Carla transitioned into an extratropical cyclone on September 13, while centered over southern Oklahoma. Rapidly moving northeastward, Carla's remnants reached the Labrador Sea, Canada and dissipated on September 17, 1961.

Carla spawned the largest hurricane-related tornado outbreak on record at the time, when 26 tornadoes touched down within its circulation. However, it was overwhelmingly surpassed by Hurricane Beulah in 1967, which spawned at least 115 tornadoes. Throughout its path, 43 fatalities and about $325.74 million in damage were attributed to Carla. Most of the impact occurred in Texas, where the storm made landfall as a large and strong Category 4 hurricane.

The most significant damage to property occurred between Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. Port O'Connor, lying nearest to the location of Carla's landfall, was virtually destroyed. In Victoria, the highest sustained wind speed was 110 mph (180 km/h), while gusts reached 150 mph (240 km/h). About 4,260 homes were damaged, with around 500 severely damaged or destroyed. 43 businesses and 26 public buildings were also significantly impacted. Damage in the city of Victoria reached $10 million. Of the 26 tornadoes spawned by Carla, eight of them in Texas caused significant impact. A tornado near Bay City destroyed two radio towers and damaged several buildings. Near Jacksonville, a tornado injured three people, caused the destruction of one house and impacted 3 others, resulting in $25,000 in damage. Twenty-two people were injured, 18 homes and 6 commercial buildings were destroyed, and 40 additional homes were damaged in a tornado in Channelview, located near Houston; losses reached $200,000. In the early morning hours of September 13, an F4 tornado moved across Galveston Island along a 15-mile (24-kilometer) long, 230-yard-wide path (it crossed into Galveston Bay as well), severely damaging 200 buildings, of which at least 60 were destroyed, and causing eight deaths and 55 injuries. A few hours later, another twister in the area resulted in the destruction of six houses and extensive lesser damage. In Hardin, a tornado damaged six homes. Several structures sustained impact during a tornado in Fulbright. The final twister occurred during the late afternoon hours in Latex. It caused two injuries, and resulted in $5,000 in losses, after damaging two houses and three garages.

Then little-known newsman Dan Rather reported live from the second floor of a building in Texas City during the storm, an act that would be imitated by later reporters. This marked the first live television broadcast of a hurricane. Rather also alerted the public of the size of Carla in a way that "literally changed the way the world sees hurricanes", according to a fellow reporter. Broadcasting live at the Weather Bureau Office in Galveston, Rather asked a meteorologist to draw an outline of the Gulf of Mexico on a transparent sheet of plastic. He then held the map over the black and white radar screen, which put the size of Carla into perspective, saying that Carla was the size of the Gulf of Mexico. CBS was so impressed with Rather's work that he was offered the position of correspondent. Throughout Texas, Carla destroyed 1,915 homes, 568 farm buildings, and 415 other buildings. Additionally, 50,723 homes, 5,620 farm buildings, and 10,487 other buildings suffered damage. There were 460 injuries according to the American Red Cross, though the Monthly Weather Review listed a slightly higher number, 465. The storm caused 34 fatalities in Texas. Causes of death include 20 people drowning, eight from tornadoes, four electrocutions, and one heart attack. Overall, damage in the state was "conservatively" estimated at $300 million. A breakdown of damage indicates $200 million incurred to property and $100 million to crops, mostly from unharvested rice and lesser impact to cotton and citrus.



On September 9th a birthday party was planned for my birthday. Although it was already pouring down rain but everyone still came. Having never been through a storm such as Carla we went to church (the 10th was my actual birth date). During service people decided to go home and get clothes, esentials, and items to make pallets on which. We went to sleep and woke up wet as the church was flooded with 2 inches of water. With nothing we could do and most people living just a few blocks from church everyone went home. Of course it got worse before it was over. Our house did not flood and God blessed us that those hundred foot pine trees did not fall on our house. Howevet, my dad worked for South er n Pacific Rail Road and for a very long time he worked 16 hours on and 8 off. He was very tired when it was over. We lived in the area that tropical storm Allison dumped so much water in Greens Bayou that destroyed so many homes of some of the ver poorest people. My sister's and I drove to thst area of Houston and it made us cry. We saw people sitting out in there yards in front of their houses with all there destroyed possessions trying to figure out what to do and wsiting on help. The stench was awuful. I have been through all the storms in Houston since Carla. The year my son was born in 1983 he was only 3 to 4 months old when s storm came through and then in December on Christmas our thermometer read 3 degrees. Pipes in house did not freeze. The pipes in ground are only about 3 feet deep and the city pipes froze and busted. It was more than a week before we had water. We went to a relatives that had water. Here you stick sound the weather can change on a dime. Be safe out there during Harvey.

Kaplan tornado Sept 10 1961

I was living in Kaplan, LA when Hurricane Carla stalled off the Texas coast on Sunday, Sept 10, 1961. The tornado that struck Kaplan was the very first one spun off from that storm, and came through a little after 2:30 that Sunday afternoon, not during the night as stated in the article. I was just a month short of my 9th birthday, yet remember the day as though it was only yesterday. We lived on the east side of Kaplan, on the old Andrew Highway, state Hwy 35. The tornado carved a path from east to west, so we were some of the first in town to witness its fury. It was estimated to be an EF3 in strength, after the Fujita scale was developed many years later. When we first heard the twister, we looked out our front door, which faced south, and it appeared to be heading directly toward our house. Dad ordered us children to lie flat on the living room floor and cover our heads with our arms. I don't know what benefit that would have done, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. At almost the last second, it veered slightly and passed within half a block south of us. I think I can safely say we were right on its edge...Someone on High was definitely watching over us! We lost power, and it wasn't restored until three days later, on Wednesday.


on the back side of Carle 5 tornados touched down
i had just returned from running the blood bank at John Sealy
someone had said when you hear the "freight train" get down
i dropped when the blast drove the shards of glass into the wall across the room
by the grace of God i am alive and can see
jim carlin md radiologist

Corrections to comments

My computer mistepped here. I meant to say the winds at Union Carbide were also 175 in a gust. Also, I had a few spelling issues, which I won't cry about if you correct, thanks.

Hurricane Carla NO BS Facts.

This report misses the true facts slightly. Hurricane Carla did minimal damage to Corpus Christi and also to Galveston, because the center passed almost exactly have way between the two. The center of Carla crossed the Coast at Port O'Connor Texas in Calhoun County, which is about 20 miles down Matagorda and Lavaca Bay system from Port Lavaca, the county seat. Highest winds were in Calhoun County. It was a big storm and yes, there were some 100+ MPH gusts in the Corpus area and also as far up the coast as the Louisiana border, but the real intensity of its category 4 winds hit Port O'connor and Port Lavaca. Port O'Connor experienced the highest of its storm surge at 21 feet. Storm surge reached about 18.5 feet in Port Lavaca. The old Lafitte hotel on the bay front on San Antonio Bay in Seadrift (aproximately 18 miles southwest of Port Lavaca and about 18 miles west of Port O'Connor) which my Aunt owned at the time, got 13 inches of water, mud, and snakes in it, and it sat on a high part of the bay front bluff. Seadrift was on the left side of the eye so it didn't receive as much surge as Port O'Connor or Port Lavaca, but it did receive about a 15 foot surge.

Maximum recorded winds were at the Alcoa Plant across the bay from Port Lavaca at 175 MPH Gust, and at about the same time also at approximately 15 MPH at the Union Carbide plant 7 miles North of Seadrift.The max sustained winds recorded at Port O'Connor were about 145 MPH, which was about as high as any recorded SUSTAINED winds were. At Port Lavaca the highest recorded SUSTAINED wind was 127 MPH.

One thing to remember, in 1961 Port Lavaca and Calhoun County were basically the Cow Pasture. There were few official recording instruments in the area and it is felt that a lot of this was guessing on the authorities part. Old salts who stayed there and road it out, said that it was way more intense than what they had experienced in past hurricanes. And some of the damage I personally saw looked to be horrific. I wouldn't call anyone a liar if they told me the highest winds WERE 200. But I can sure believe the official recordings and think they are conservative. But officials were very conservative back then. But the main gist of my message today is that the center of Carla did not pass inland at Corpus Christi OR Houston or even near it. Port Lavaca-Calhoun County caught the Brunt of Carla right on the head.

As a child (10 yo), I went

As a child (10 yo), I went through Carla also. Like your family, we cleaned up the mess. It never crossed our minds that the government owed us assistance. We were poor and used to taking care of our business. Charity was not an option, it was not wanted. We used to be a strong people. We have not changed for the better. Thank you for your honest comments.

Carla in Boling

I was about 9 during the time when Carla rolled through Boling. As I recall, when the eye-of the storm came over I left the High School and walked home. Dad was there so after an hour or so I had to go back to the thick walls of the High School.
That was my first hurricane (that I remember) certainly the first severe weather item to remember. Most importantly I realized how strong a storm could be as I watched the 3-foot thick, 100-year old, Oak trees twist as if they were little more than balsa wood.

hurricane carla

I'm reading about HC and saw your comments. Did you finish high school at Port Lavaca? Calhoun Sandcrabs 71!! We evaciatede to San Antonio. Bad memories, no power, half of the house roof gone, snakes, dead dogs-animals, no water, Army trucks all over.

David W Reyna
Semper FI

Carla hit Port Lavaca on

Carla hit Port Lavaca on Sept 11... my tenth birthday. We spent the first half of the storm in our home and then,during the eye, evacuated to the Port Lavaca fire station for the second half. I thought it was the worst B'day ever until they took out the Twin Towers in New York on my 50th B'day!

Born Sept 21, 1961

I was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Carla (Houston) which is why to this day I love severe and stormy weather. Just seems to be in my element when such destructive forces are in play. I'm told there was little electricity in the hospital I was born in and was practically born on a pool table because of the volatile weather.