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Hugo v Laura

February 21, 2021

By Paul Homewood

I have been comparing the cost of recent weather disasters with the 1980s.

One example stands out like a sore thumb – Hurricanes Laura and Hugo, both supposedly costing $19bn at today’s prices:



Laura which hit Louisiana last August was a Cat 4 storm. There have been 30 hurricanes which have hit the US at Cat 4 strength and over since 1851, so Cat 4s are a regular occurrence.

As would be expected, Laura’s winds left a lot of damage in and around Lake Charles where it made landfall, leaving thousands homeless. The city however escaped the worst effects of the storm surge, which was much less than originally thought, and damage inland was not excessive.

All in all, the damage from Laura was no worse than many other major hurricanes.

Now contrast with Hugo, which hit the Carolinas in 1989. Hugo was also a Cat 4, but there the similarity ends.

This is how NOAA summarise the hurricane, but it does not even begin to describe the full devastation:

Hurricane Hugo is remembered as one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history. The storm’s violent winds and strong storm surges destroyed thousands of buildings and caused power outages from the Caribbean, through South Carolina, and all the way into Canada. An estimated 49 fatalities were directly-related to Hugo. Total damages from the storm were estimated to be $10 billion. Because of Hugo’s extreme devastation, the name Hugo was retired and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane.,An%20estimated%2049%20fatalities%20were%20directly-related%20to%20Hugo.

After hitting Cat 5 speeds over the Atlantic, Hugo left a trail of destruction through Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. (The cost of this is included in the $10 billion above).

It then turned north west making landfall in South Carolina. A catastrophic 20 feet storm surge brought record tide heights to the US East Coast, levelling hundreds of homes on the barrier islands, and causing much damage in Charleston itself. many boats were washed half a mile inland, and the Ben Sawyer bridge was  heavily damaged.

The storm was so powerful that it caused widespread damage across two thirds of the state as it swept inland, still clocking hurricane wind speeds as far away as Charlotte.

It cut a wide swathe across the inland forests, damaging a third of the timber in the state.

Even then Hugo was not done, bringing wind damage and floods to Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Ohio, not to mention Canada. It is estimated that the homes of 200,000 people were damaged or destroyed by Hugo.

Hugo left such a scar in the collective consciousness of South Carolina that TV stations broadcast 30th anniversary documentaries a couple of years ago.

This video is much shorter, but it is a poignant reminder of that day, as well as giving a glimpse into the aftermath:

Anybody who seriously claims that Hurricane Laura was anywhere near as devastating as Hugo clearly did not live through it.

More information on Hugo here:

  1. Duker permalink
    February 21, 2021 7:11 pm

    Im thinking they are using computer models to estimate the damage cost now.
    The actual costs for Laura are quite low as mentioned, sometimes paper or economic loss is included as well but ‘Moodys Analytics’, the name gives it away.

  2. Mack permalink
    February 21, 2021 10:21 pm

    Talking of hurricane impacts, nothing recently, since man made ‘global warming’ could positively had any effect, mirrored the devestating 1900 Galveston hurricane, which levelled the city. Prior to that, the hurricanes which obliterated Indianola in 1876 and finished it off in 1885 were equally as devestating. And that was when co2 was at a level that the Hansen acolytes would regard as something we would should all aspire to emulate. These muppets don’t do history do they?

  3. Gamecock permalink
    February 21, 2021 11:15 pm

    ‘still clocking hurricane wind speeds as far away as Charlotte.’

    Not quite. Gamecock lived in Charlotte when Hugo came through. He sustained 70 mph winds for 6 hours. Rain came in around his front door. At the top; along the sides. A pine forest a mile away had EVERY tree snapped off at 20′ above the ground.

    The shocking thing about Hugo was how quickly in came inland. Being 175 miles inland, it was expected to be substantially weakened by the time it got to Charlotte. But WEATHER conditions propelled it inland very quickly, before it could simmer down. The rapidity it moved inland was Hugo’s unique characteristic.

    There was a magnificent video of the coast from Charleston to Myrtle Beach shot from an ANG helicopter with Governor Campbell aboard (I can’t find it on duh web). High winds and a 20 foot storm surge pretty well destroyed everything for 90 miles along the coast.

    In Charlotte, Gamecock’s only problem was no electricity for 3 days. He had friends come over to take showers. No electricity, but gas water heater worked fine.

    Gamecock had an employee who was without electricity for 11 days. He had no WATER for 14 days. He was well within the city limits of Charlotte. The day of the storm, he tried to make it into work. On foot. He couldn’t make it. From 2 miles away. Downed trees and power lines blocked every path.

  4. mwhite permalink
    February 22, 2021 9:34 am

    I did hear a re-analysis of past hurricanes is currently being carried out.

    Need I say more.

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