Hurricane Elena 1985

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Elena
28 August - 04 September 1985


Tropical Storm Ana (TS)
Hurricane Bob (1)
Hurricane Claudette (1)
Hurricane Danny (1)
Hurricane Elena (3)
Tropical Storm Fabian (TS)
Hurricane Gloria (4)
Tropical Storm Henri (TS)
Tropical Storm Isabel (TS)
Hurricane Juan (1)
Hurricane Kate (3)

a. Synoptic History

A well organized cloud pattern moved out of the Sahara Desert and was first identified on satellite imagery north of the Cape Verde Islands on 23 August. The unusually fast 35 mph westward motion, combined with the dry saharan air mass surrounding the disturbance, apparently inhibited the formation of a tropical cyclone until the system approached Cuba the evening of 27 August. The rapid motion was the result of a strong high pressure ridge building westward across the Atlantic north of the tropical disturbance.

Elena was named on 28 August when the center was over central Cuba and reconnaissance aircraft measured 52 to 58 mph winds north of the center. It might be interesting to note that the central pressure dropped 9 mb while the center was moving over Cuba. After moving into the Gulf of Mexico north of Havana, Elena quickly strengthened to a hurricane on 29 August. A marked decrease of Elena's forward motion began the next day as steering currents collapsed with the approach of a frontal trough from the northwest. Elena turned and took an eastward course for the next 36 hours in response to a low pressure system moving rapidly across Pennsylvania into the Atlantic. The hurricane then stalled off the west coast of Florida. During this period Elena maintained maximum winds of 104 mph.

As pressure began building over the eastern U.S. on 1 September, the hurricane once again resumed a gradual acceleration toward the west-northwest with increasing strength. That afternoon, Elena's minimum pressure of 951 mb was measured by NOAA reconnaissance aircraft. Maximum winds were extimated to be 127 mph. The center of Elena made landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi on the morning of 2 September.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Maximum winds reported on the coast were on Dauphin Island, Alabama with sustained winds of 106 mph and gusts to 136 mph recorded. Some of the higher gusts observed were: Gulfport, Mississippi 121 mph, Pascagoula, Mississippi 115 mph, Pensacola. Florida 92 mph, Biloxi, Missisippi 90 mph, Cedar Key, Florida 75 mph, Clearwater Beach, Florida(near Tampa) 69 mph, Mobile, Alabama 60 mph, Key West, Florida 55 mph and Slidell, Louisiana(near New Orleans) 51 mph.

The lowest pressure observed on the coast was 953 mb at Pascagoula, Mississippi. Lowest pressure observed by a NOAA reconnaissance aircraft at the time of landfall was 959 mb.

1. Storm Surge Data

Tides were generally 3 to 6 feet above normal along the coast from Grand Isle, Louisiana to Sarasota, Florida. The length of the time and area coverage by these hurricane produced tides were most unusual. The maximum storm surge was 10 feet near Apalachicola. Florida with reports of between 6 and 8 feet on Dauphin Island and along the coastal sections around Pascagoula, Mississippi.

2. Rainfall Data

Storm rainfall totals along the coast ranged from less than 2 inches at Key West, Florida to more than 11 inches at Apalachicola, Florida. Inland, heavy rains in north central Arkansas were in excess of 8 inches at a few locations, but were mainly less than 2 inches.

3. Tornadoes

There were several tornadoes in central florida during the period Elena was stalled off the west coast of Florida. A number of mobile home parks northeast of Tampa sustained severe damage with some injuries, but no fatalities. At least a dozen tornadoes were also reported in coastal areas of Mississippi, however damage was localised and it could not be determined how much of the damage was produced by tornadoes. Most damage appeared to be from severe squalls.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

More than 1.5 million people evacuated low-lying coastal areas during the approach of Elena, with a large section of the middle gulf coast being asked to evacuate twice. This is the largest number of people ever evacuated and may have contributed to the fact there were no deaths in the area of landfall. The 4 deaths reported were attributed to falling trees, automobile accidents and heart attacks. The Red Cross reported 134 people were hospitalized with 98 of this total being storm produced injuries and the remainder stress related physical problems.

Some of the statistics released by the Red Cross were:
1. 760 shelters housed about 537,000 people.
2. 294 single family homes were destroyed with 1,000 suffering major damage and 15,381 minor damage.
3. 541 mobile homes were destroyed with 1,268 suffering major damage and 1,374 minor damage.
4. 239 apartments or condominiums were destroyed with 423 suffering major damage and 1,486 minor damage.

Insured damage from Elena ranked as the fourth largest on record with a total of $543 Million reported by the American Insurance Services Group. The total damage from the storm is estimated at $1.25 Billion.

Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Elena
28 August - 04 September, 1985

Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
02/0000 29.4 85.9 953 125 Category 3 Hurricane

Landfall for Hurricane Elena
28 August - 04 September, 1985
Wind Speed
Stage Landfall
02/1300 959 115 Category 3 Hurricane Biloxi,