Georgia hasn't taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century, and only four minor storms made landfall here during the 1900s.
Historically, however, the state is almost as likely as Alabama to take a pummeling and is a more likely target than recently ravaged Mississippi, according to National Hurricane Center historical data.
"Savannah is long overdue," said Georgia state assistant climatologist Pam Knox, of the University of Georgia's Driftmier Engineering Center. "They haven't been hit by a big one in over 100 years."
Georgia's three worst hurricanes - all occurring in the month of August - made landfall in the Savannah vicinity in 1881, 1893 and 1898, with the Augusta area's most catastrophic event occurring in the 1881 storm.
"The storms had no names then, but that one killed about 700 people, with some deaths in Augusta," Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker said. "Barrier islands were completely submerged and a lot of history was taken away."
Newspaper accounts of that storm included descriptions of severe damage as far inland as Augusta, she said.
"There were witnesses telling of horses being blown into buildings on Broad Street," she said.
Georgia's narrow sliver of coastline makes a smaller target, but its shallow offshore shelf adds to potential inland damage if a major storm arrives there.
From a weather standpoint, cities like Augusta can sustain damage even if they don't bear the wrath of a direct landfall, Ms. Knox said.
"Just because you're not on the coast doesn't mean you can't have hurricane effects," she said, noting that Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm in 1989, cut a swath of damage from Charleston, S.C., through Columbia and into North Carolina's metro Charlotte area.
Statistically, Georgia's curved coastline makes it harder to attract a direct landfall, Ms. Knox said.
"The waves come in from the east and when they get closer to landfall, then tend to recurve," she said.
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia's Hurricane History
- Aug. 27, 1881: A major hurricane hits the coast, killing 700 people.
- Aug. 27-28, 1893: A major hurricane hits the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, killing 1,000 to 2,500 people and leaving 30,000 homeless.
- Aug. 31, 1898: The last Category 3 hurricane to date to make landfall in Georgia strikes Savannah, with 179 deaths.
- 1911: A Category 2 hurricane hits Savannah, killing 17 people.
- 1940: A Category 2 hurricane hits Savannah, killing 50 people.
- 1947: A Category 2 hurricane hits Savannah, killing one person.
- 1979: Category 2 Hurricane David hits Savannah, causing minor damage.
Source: Georgia Emergency Management Agency
Hurricane landfalls since 1851 (number of storms Category 3 or higher is in parentheses):
- Florida: 110 (35)
- Texas: 59 (19)
- Louisiana: 49 (18)
- North Carolina: 46 (12)
- South Carolina: 31 (6)
- Alabama: 22 (6)
- Georgia: 20 (3)
- Mississippi: 15 (8)
- Virginia: 12 (1)