Hurricane Hazel

Hurricane Hazel-Before and After-Raymore Dr.-York, Canada

On October 14, Air Force Capt. William Harrell, a meteorologist, was aboard a B-29 bomber that had been assigned to investigate Hazel as the storm pounded northward near the Bahamas. Harrell, who had flown into several other hurricanes, was astonished by the way Hazel’s winds were thrashing the sea.

“Usually the ocean is blue or green with little cotton-white patches,” Harrell later told United Press International. “But the hurricane eye was like a sheer white sheet as far as I could see. To me, this was truly a phenomenal sea. The force of the … wind was cutting the tops off all waves and making the ocean a continuous mass of whitecaps and frothing foam.”


October 5th, 1954 was the official date of birth of the most vicious, violent and enduring hurricanes of all time. Her name was Hazel and the people that survived her dubbed her, entirely without affection, as “Witch Hazel”.  Hazel was the fourth major hurricane of 1954.  She blasted her way though no fewer than eight states and two Canadian provinces leaving behind splinters where there once had been schools, businesses and homes.  She was so destructive that her name was retired, never to be spoken again. Take a look at her unbelievably long path keeping in mind that some of the worst devastation and loss of life occurred in Canada…yes, Canada:

Tracking “Witch” Hazel

Hazel’s Caribbean Adventure

Here are but a few of the disquieting facts about Hazel.  She began her treacherous journey through the annals of history off the coast of the lower Antilles making her first reported landfall in Grenada. She then slowly churned along the northern Venezuelan coast, picking up moisture and wind speed from the warm Caribbean waters. She hooked north and made a straight run for Haiti where, on October 12th,  she took approximately one thousand lives while demolishing the towns of Marfranc, Moton, and Cayes, simultaneously uprooting forty percent of Haiti’s coffee trees and fifty percent of its cacao. It took more than ten years for Haiti to regain its production of these two backbones of its economy. For the perennially impoverished Haiti, this was a profound devastation.  Hazel next clipped the coast of Puerto Rico leaving eight dead there.


Done with the islands, Hazel hooked northward aiming for the Carolina’s. She had spent much of her force on the poor Haitians but got her second wind during her long, slow, northerly churn off the U.S. Eastern seaboard.  By the time she reached Myrtle Beach on October 15th, her winds were a full 150 mph…not the gusts, but the actual wind speed.  Her eighteen foot high landfall storm surges washed away a three story hotel and left nineteen dead.

Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina

At the same time Long Beach, North Carolina was left with only five buildings standing of its three hundred and fifty seven structures.  She then proceeded straight north where her rains caused the Ohio river to flood in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. She damaged  property and took lives in Virginia, West Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Winds one hundred miles inland were measured at an astonishing one hundred twenty miles per hour! A woman in Wilmington, Delaware lost her life when Hazel’s forceful wind gust picked her up and hurled her into the side of a trolley car.  Thousands of people had to be evacuated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where four people died from the flooding of the Ohio river.

Morehead/Beufort Causeway-N.Carolina

Wrightsville Beach, N. Carolina

Wind gusts in lower Manhattan clocked in at a jaw dropping one hundred thirteen miles per hour. Hazel managed to score a total loss of fifteen thousand homes with another thirty nine thousand suffering heavy damage before she crossed over in to Canada. She was travelling at a rate of 55 mph over land! By the time she streaked over Lake Ontario into Canada she had taken ninety five American lives but she wasn’t done yet.

Catastrophe in Canada

Humber Valley, Canada

At 9:30 p.m. on October 14th the Dominion Weather Office issued its final forecast that communicated to Canadian citizens that Hurricane Hazel would not be a threat by the time it reached Canada.  “The intensity of this storm has decreased to the point where it should no longer be classified as a hurricane. This weakening storm will continue northward, passing east of Toronto before midnight.”  


Toronto Area





This proved to be a tragically erroneous forecast.  The provinces of Ontario and Quebec had been hit by a string of rainstorms in the two weeks prior to Hazel’s arrival.  These rains had left the ground already saturated.  Additionally, there had been no precedent for a hurricane retaining its wind and water that far north. Hurricanes simply don’t behave that way. So when the residents of Humber Valley tucked themselves in for bed the night of the 15th they were not prepared for what was about to befall them.

The massive quantity of water that fell from the sky had nowhere to go other than the Humber river.  The river over flowed leaving some four thousand Canadian families homeless, nearly nineteen hundred of those in Toronto. Thirty people perished from Raymore Drive in York which is shown in the before and after photo featured at the beginning of this article.  Eighty one Canadians lost their lives in what was expected to be an expired hurricane. In the end, nearly twelve hundred people died all the way from Haiti to Toronto. Property damage was nearly four hundred million in 1954 dollars.  Today, that would be closer to four hundred billion dollars. That, my friends, was one hell of a storm. And just imagine, it took place well before global warming, , geo engineering, HAARP, steered storms and climate change hit the scene. “Witch” Hazel was, quite simply a very deadly freak of nature.