The 1961 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active Atlantic tropical cyclone season in terms of named storms since 1936. Impact this year was very devestating, with 545 deaths and $15 billion (1961 USD) being caused. Five storms - Anna, Carla, Frances, Gerda, and Inga - were responsible for the majority of the destruction and deaths caused. Damage occured primarily in the United States, where Hurricanes Anna, Frances, and Gerda all made landfall in the state of Florida, causing $7 billion USD combined. Citizens in Florida would suffer three major hurricanes in only three weeks, causing well advanced preparations to occur. Hurricanes Carla and Inga made landfall over Cuba, severely damaging buildings with a massive storm surge and killing dozens of Cubans.
The first three weeks of August saw no tropical cyclone activity. The tranquil period ended on August 24, when the first storm, Hurricane Anna, formed from a tropical wave exiting the western coast of Africa. It was upgraded straight to a tropical storm, became a hurricane two days later, and then became a major hurricane on August 29. Anna reached a peak intensity with winds of 140 miles per hour (mph) and 945 millibars (mb) on September 1 before making landfall near Jupiter, Florida as a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds and a 953 mb pressure, killing 101 people (99 directly, two indirectly) and causing $4 billion (1961 USD) dollars in damages. Anna dissipated on September 5.
Hurricane Betsy developed on August 26 from another tropical wave approximately 500 miles (mi) east of Bermuda. It was upgraded to a hurricane on August 30 and explosively intensified to a major hurricane that same day. Betsy reached a peak intensity of 125 mph and 956 mb on September 3, before wind shear entered the system, and it would dissipate on September 7. One indirect death was reported from drowning, but no landfalls occured and no damage was reported.
An extratropical cyclone moved off the coast of Nicaragua on August 30. It rapidly became Tropical Storm Carla and then a hurricane on August 31. On September 4, after struggling for five days, Carla explosively intensified over warm waters to a peak of 160 mph and 918 mb fifty miles south of Havana, Cuba. It then made landfall over Cuba on September 5 at this intensity. Land interaction weakened Carla to a tropical storm, and it existed for another five days before making landfall directly over Mobile, Alabama with winds of 40 mph and 1001 mb. The storm quickly dissipated on September 11 over Alabama, but not before causing $3 billion (1961 USD) dollars in damages and killing 100 people (74 directly, 26 indirectly).
Hurricane Debbie formed from a tropical wave that exited the coast of Africa on September 1. Organization upgraded the wave to a tropical depression on September 1. Two days later, Tropical Storm Debbie was named, and it would gradually intensify. Debbie became a hurricane on September 6, and reached its peak of 80 mph and 992 mb on September 9 before weakening to a tropical storm and dissipating on September 12. No deaths, damages, or landfalls are associated with Hurricane Debbie.
Another tropical wave following Tropical Storm Debbie exited the coast of Africa on September 2. Sufficent deep convection led to it being classified Tropical Storm Esther on September 4. Esther took advantage of the warm sea surface temperatures (sea surface temperatures), and became a hurricane on September 5. High wind shear prevented Esther to become any stronger than 105 mph and 963 mb, which was attained on September 13. It merged with a frontal zone on September 15. The frontal zone tracked eastward, and it made landfall near Edinburgh, Scotland on September 26 before rapidly dissipating. No deaths or damages were reported, but the frontal zone that absorbed Esther caused heavy waves throughout Great Britain.
Frances was another severe tropical cyclone. An area of violent weather 100 miles west of Cape Verde became a tropical storm on September 13. Frances gradually became a hurricane by September 17, a major by September 24, and reached its peak as the strongest storm of the season with winds of 185 mph and 914 mb on September 27. This made Frances the strongest Atlantic tropical cyclone since 1935. The raging hurricane proceeded straight over the Bahamas, devestating the entire country (the first to do so since 1866). It then made landfall near West Palm Beach, Florida with winds of 160 mph and 922 mb on October 1, becoming a rare Category 5 landfalling hurricane. Frances moved over the Gulf of Mexico, still at Category 4 intensity, and rapidly weakened in the bay after sucking in cold sea surface temperatures to a tropical depression that "shredded" on October 5. Frances added on to the damages caused by Hurricane Anna and Gerda, causing $2.5 billion (1961 USD) dollars in damages and 104 deaths (64 direct, 40 indirect).
An extratropical cyclone that originated over Mexico moved into the Gulf of Mexico on September 15. It was named Gerda on September 17 100 mi south of Sabine Pass, Texas, and it rapidly became a Category 2 the next day. It maintained Category 2 intensity throughout September 23, where it quickly became a 115 mph, 944 mb major hurricane as it made landfall near Saint Petersburg, Florida. Gerda degenerated to an extratropical storm on September 24 over Florida. The remnants accelerated towards Newfoundland (where they absorbed Hurricane Inga's remains during this time), and they made landfall near Cape Race on October 1. Gerda's remnants finally dissipated over Newfoundland later that day. $500 million damages (1961 USD) were reported, as well as 150 deaths (90 direct, 60 indirect) due to its unexpected intensification were reported in an area already hit hard by Hurricane Anna.
Tropical Storm Hattie formed from a random thunderstorm with winds of 50 mph on September 18. It existed until September 22, reaching 1008 mb before being absorbed by a large extratropical cyclone. No damages, deaths, or landfalls are associated with Hattie.
A thunderstorm departed the coast of Colombia on September 19. Low wind shear let it develop deep convection, and after three ships reported 55 mph winds, it was upgraded to a tropical storm 500 mi south of Cuba and was named Inga. Inga remained a tropical storm until an explosive round of intensification occured on September 22 that let it turn from a tropical storm to a 130 mph, 933 mb Category 3 in just six hours. The next day, it made landfall near Havana, similar to where Carla made landfall, as a 130 mph Category 4. Land interaction weakened it to a Category 1. Shortly afterwards, interaction with the larger Hurricane Gerda caused a Fujiwhara interaction between Inga and Gerda. Inga became extratropical on September 25 and its remnants were absorbed to the more powerful remnants of Hurricane Gerda. At least 80 deaths (60 direct, 20 indirect) and $2 billion (1961 USD) dollars in damage can be attributed to Hurricane Inga.
Subtropical Storm One developed from a poorly organized tropical wave on September 24. It stayed at 40 mph/1011 mb its entire duration, and dissipated on September 26.
Hurricane Jenny came together on September 29 as a thunderstorm in the Gulf of Mexico developed a closed circulation. It became a hurricane and reached its peak of 80 mph/990mb on October 2 and shortly afterwards, made landfall near Midfield, Texas at that strength, dissipating afterwards in just 18 hours on October 3. Eight people (three directly, five indirectly) were killed and $500 million (1961 USD) dollars in damages were caused.
Subtropical Depression Two randomly formed and dissipated on October 3 from a 35 mph windspeed and a 1009 mb pressure extratropical cyclone. It only lasted twelve hours and didn't cause any impact.
Similar to Hattie, Tropical Storm Kara formed from a thunderstorm with 45 mph winds. Although a closed circulation was detected by a ship, it only did so from October 5 to 8, and reached 1006 mb before being absorbed by a frontal zone. No damages, deaths, or landfalls are associated with Kara.
A Gulf of Mexico tropical wave developed deep convection on October 14. Two ships detected a closed circulation, as well as 45 mph winds, prompting the upgrade to Tropical Storm Laurie. Laurie explosively intensified from a weak storm to a moderate Category 1 hurricane in twelve hours, reaching a peak of 85 mph/984 mb and then hit South Padre Island, Texas at that intensity. Laurie quickly dissipated, in a matter similar to Jenny, by October 16. No damages were reported, but an indirect drowning was reported by the government.
Tropical Storm Fourteen formed from a tropical wave that exited the coast of Africa on October 21. It reached a 60 mph/1002 mb intensity the next day, but cold sea surface temperatures and high wind shear led to its dissipation. No impact was reported from this cyclone.
Tropical Storm Martha developed on October 30 from a well organized tropical wave, but land interaction killed the 40 mph/1011 mb storm the next day, causing no known damages, deaths, or landfalls.
Freezing sea surface temperatures and exceptionally high wind shear prevented any further storms from forming.
In the U.S., Hurricane Anna killed 101 people and caused $4 billion (1961 USD) dollars in damages throughout Florida. A massive storm surge, along with 15 inches (in) of rain, induated homes, roads, and many other structures along the coasts, leaving nearly 2,000 people homeless. U.S. President John F. Kennedy declared the entire Florida Peninsula a disaster area. Food, water, tents, and seeds were provided to citizens living on the street and to forests that lost trees due to water and wind damage. However, these accomodations proved obslete as two more major hurricanes made landfall that same year.
Hurricane Gerda killed 150 people and caused $150 million (1961 USD) in the same area that had already been hit hard by Hurricane Anna. Five to nine inches of rain were reported in Tampa and Orlando. This destroyed many buildings that outlived Anna, and washed out roads to major cities like Miami, segregrating emergency assistance to those places. Emergency tents were demolished by Gerda, leaving more people (up to 6,000) homeless. Despite tons of new food and water being shipped in, subsequent Hurricane Frances "left the state permanently uninhabitable".
Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE)
The following names were used for named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes) that formed in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1961. This was the first time this particular naming list had been used. Storms were named Frances, Hattie, Inga, Jenny, Kara, Laurie, and Martha for the first time in 1961, as the names Anna, Betsy, and Carla had previously been used in 1956, the names Debbie and Esther were previously used in 1957, and the name Gerda was previously used in 1958. Names that were not assigned are marked in gray.
Due to the severe damage and loss of life caused by Hurricanes Anna, Carla, Frances, Gerda, and Inga, the names Anna, Carla, Frances, Gerda, and Inga were later retired. This is more than any other previous season on record, surpassing the record of four (4) set in 1955.