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Hurricane Betsy was a Category 4 storm at landfall, new data says

Hurricane Betsy made landfall on Sept. 9, 1965, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

NEW ORLEANS — More than 50 years after Hurricane Betsy made landfall in southeast Louisiana, researchers say the devastating storm may have been more powerful at landfall than originally thought.

Using new observation data, the NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division said Hurricane Betsy made landfall on Sept. 9, 1965, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. That windspeed upgrades the storm from a category 3 to a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which was introduced eight years after Betsy made landfall.

The assessment was part of HRD’s re-analysis 1961 to 1965 Atlantic hurricane seasons for the Atlantic Hurricane Database Re-analysis Project. Researchers are re-examining data as far back as 1851 to update the National Hurricane Center’s North Atlantic hurricane database using a modern scientific understanding of hurricanes. The new data is collected from logs on ships, weather stations, aircraft, and earliest available satellite images.

Also included in the November report, researchers say they discovered nine new tropical storms and hurricanes in those five years and added them to the database. Six hurricanes were reported as impacting the United States, which was one less than previously thought.

Betsy made landfall in the dark of night, pushing storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi River, and causing major flooding in the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, and St. Bernard Parish. Thousands of structures were inundated with water, forcing residents to seek shelter in their attics.

In total, 75 people were killed by the storm in Louisiana and Florida, and Betsy became the first-ever hurricane to cause $1 billion in damages to the United States.

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WWL-TV Local Weather Experts Dave Nussbaum, Alexandra Cranford and Payton Malone contributed to this report.