was an unpredictable and damaging tropical cyclone
that affected eastern and central portions of the United States Gulf Coast
in late August and early September 1985. Threatening popular tourist destinations during Labor Day weekend
, Elena repeatedly deviated from its forecast path, triggering evacuations of unprecedented extent. The hurricane wrought havoc to property and the environment between southwestern Florida
and eastern Louisiana
, though lesser effects were felt well beyond those areas. Elena developed on August 28 near Cuba
, and after traveling lengthwise across the island with little impact, it entered the Gulf of Mexico
and continued to strengthen. Initially projected to strike the central Gulf Coast, the hurricane unexpectedly veered toward the east on August 30, then stalled just 50 mi (80 km) west of Cedar Key, Florida
. Despite predictions that Elena would continue eastward across Florida, the cyclone remained nearly stationary for about 48 hours, causing damage all along the eastern gulf with high winds and waves, before slowly moving northwest and ultimately making landfall
near Biloxi, Mississippi
, on September 2 as a Category 3
major hurricane. The storm quickly weakened upon moving ashore and dissipated on September 4.
The hurricane's unpredictable shifts in direction created what was considered the largest peacetime evacuation in the nation's history. Evacuations occurred in sequence to follow the storm's forecast positions, and many residents and tourists along portions of the Gulf Coast were forced to leave twice in a matter of days. Preparations were generally timely and efficient, though accommodations and resources at storm shelters were stretched thin, and many refugees tried to return home against officials' orders. About 1.25 million people fled the storm in Florida alone, contributing to a region-wide total of nearly 2 million evacuees. Tropical cyclone warnings and watches
were continuously issued and adjusted, and forecasters stressed the storm's destructive potential for days.