Delaware is at risk for high winds, coastal flooding, rainfall flooding and tornadoes.
During the past century, all sections of the state have experienced hurricane force gusts,
if not sustained hurricane strength winds. Hurricane Gloria in 1985 was the last tropical
cyclone to bring widespread hurricane force gusts alo coastal flooding. Other high wind
events of the past hundred years occurred in 1933, 1936, 1944, 1954 and 1960.
Hurricane Floyd in 1999 established a 24-hour rainfall record for Delaware and is among
the periodic tropical cyclones that have generated double-digit rainfall. Many tropical
systems have spun off tornadoes, some deadly.
The following are some of Delaware's significant tropical cyclones:
1821 The eye of the powerful Norfolk and Long Island Hurricane skimmed the Delaware
coast and passed over Cape Henlopen on September 3. A calm of 30 minutes ensued before
hurricane force blasts returned. A storm wave, described as a "tidal wave" about six to eight feet
high, swept through the Delaware Bay causing shoreline devastation.
1878 The Great October Gale on the 23rd caused wind damage throughout the state. A
storm wave, about 10 feet high, riding astride the storm surge inundated the Delaware Bay
region along 30 miles of shoreline. In some places, at Collins Beach and near Woodland Beach,
the water advanced inland for more than a mile. Broadsides of hurricane force claimed 100 roofs
in Wilmington. This event ranks among the state's most destructive windstorms.
1888 A long-lasting tornado related to a hurricane tracking through Pennsylvania swept
south of Newark and into Wilmington on August 21. Four people were killed. (The tornado
originated in the Washington, D.C., area and tracked almost continuously for more than 80
1889 One of Delaware's most destructive coastal storms affected eastern sections when a
hurricane stalled off the coast from September 8-12, producing erosive, enveloping, surf. Many
ships were lost at port. The storm ravaged Lewes and other villages along the Delaware Bay. At
least 32 vessels washed ashore or were wrecked at Lewes. (A similar hurricane today would
swamp the state's barrier islands.)
1903 Two tropical cyclones affected coastal sections. The first, on September 16-17, came
ashore near Atlantic City, N.J.. Heavy squalls buffeted Delaware. Gusts at Lewes peaked at 80
mph. Then, from October 8-12, a hurricane stalled off the coast. Surging tides invaded the land
generating severe erosion and immense waterfront damage. This storm was nearly the equal of
1889 along the coast. As in 1889, the persistence of wind, rather than extreme strength, caused
1904 A tropical cyclone tracked through the state on September 14. Winds gusted to 100
mph in Lewes. Much of southern Delaware had tropical storm force winds, with isolated
hurricane force gusts.
1933 On August 23, the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane made landfall on North
Carolina's Outer Banks. Days of strong onshore winds brought increasing tides and major
coastal flooding. Heavy rains and persistent gales caused inland flooding and uprooted
thousands of trees. 13.24 inches of rain was recorded at Bridgeville (Aug. 21-24).
1944 The Great Atlantic Hurricane passed offshore on September 14. Hurricane force
winds were recorded along the entire Delaware coast. The freighter Thomas Tracy grounded in
Rehoboth Beach. The roof of the Rehoboth Beach city hall blew off. The resort was battered by
gusts up to 90 mph. Flooding rain and gales pelted inland sections.
1954 Hurricane Hazel occurred on October 15. Hazel ranks among the state's worst
windstorms. Hurricane gusts lashed most areas. A 98 mph gust was recorded in Wilmington, and
a 75 mph gust was recorded in Lewes. The National Guard Armory in Dover was destroyed by
wind. Generally, less than an inch of rain fell throughout the state as Hazel tracked well west.
1985 Hurricane Gloria provided more scare than wind on September 27. Hurricane force
gusts blew along the lower Delaware shore.
1996 Hurricane Bertha tracked through Delaware on July 12 bringing most sections gales
and several inches of rain. On September 5, Hurricane Fran passed about 150 miles west of
Delaware but still whipped most areas with gusts of 40 to 55 mph.
1999 Hurricane Floyd's eye tracked over Fenwick Island in extreme southeastern Delaware
on September 16. Epic rainfall deluged interior sections. with more than 10 inches in some
places. A state calendar-day rainfall record was set at Greenwood, 10.58 inches.
2003 Hurricane Isabel on September 18-19 tracked through Maryland. Peak gusts were
generally 50 to 65 mph in Delaware. Widespread power outages occurred and thousands of
trees were uprooted. Isabel brought modest rainfall and minor coastal flooding, as seaside
resorts missed the brunt of the storm.
2011 On August 27-28, Hurricane Irene skirted the coastline, with gales and tropical storm
force gusts throughout the state. Rain totalling 5 to 10 inches was widespread. In early
September, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee brought heavy rain and some flooding.
2012 Hurricane Sandy lashed Delaware on October 29-30 with isolated hurricane force
gusts and widespread gales, heavy rain, and significant coastal area flooding.
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The eye of Hurricane Floyd (1999) tracked over Fenwick Island, Delaware. The prodigious rain
that bucketed interior sections made Floyd unforgettable to many residents. (Photo by Rick
Schwartz, author of Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States)
Hurricane Gloria in 1985 swept the Delaware shore with hurricane-force gusts,
but spared most shops serious damage, including this one in Rehoboth Beach.
|To learn more, order Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States.