Hurricane season kicks off tomorrow, Saturday June 1st and extends till November 30th. Although August, September, and October tend to be the most active months (with the peak of the season beginning in early September), it’s good to remember that hurricanes can hit any time.
For this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted nine to 15 named storms. Living in Florida, you know exactly what this means: a lot of added stress and extra preparedness are needed in order to avoid or minimize disaster.
Today we want to remember four of the strongest and most destructive hurricanes that have hit Florida in the past 100 years. In doing so, we expect to raise awareness on the powerful forces of mother nature.
Labor Day Hurricane (1935)
The Labor Day Hurricane stroke on the evening of September 2 1935. It is still considered the strongest storm to ever hit Florida and the first known Category 5 hurricane to strike the continental United States. Wind speeds reached up to 200 miles per hour destroying nearly all structures on their path. Houses, buildings, bridges and railway embankments were literally wiped away. As the hurricane passed near Long Key, it generated a massive storm surge of 20 feet that swept the entire region. The surge was so massive that the waters carved new channels connecting the bay with the ocean. This surge killed more than 250 World War One veterans who were building a highway in the Keys. After devastating the Keys, the storm moved north causing extensive wind and flood damage to the Tampa Bay Area, the Florida Panhandle and neighboring Georgia. The National Weather Service estimated more than 400 deaths just in Florida.
Donna made landfall on the Florida Keys on September 10, 1960 with estimated wind speeds of 145 mph. Some areas of the Keys experienced almost complete destruction. For example, the storm surge reached 13 feet in Marathon, damaging more than 75% of buildings in the area and washing away bridges, boats and docks. In Southwest Florida, tides were seven feet above normal. As a result, thousands of properties in Homestead were completely flooded. Agricultural losses were significant, the avocado crop was destroyed and half of the grapefruit crop was lost. The environmental cost was also very high: In the Everglades, large portions of mangrove forest were wiped out and more than a third of the white heron population was killed. In the state of Florida alone, there were more than 1200 people injured and a total of 14 fatalities. Damages accounted for more than $300 million. Unfortunately, Donna’s path of destruction didn’t end in Florida: Donna is reported as the only storm to affect every single state along the East Coast with hurricane-force winds.
On August 24 1992, Andrew made landfall in Florida as a powerful and destructive Category 5 with sustained wind speeds of 165 mph. It stroke Elliott Key first and then Homestead with such a violence that many homes were leveled to the ground. More than 1.4 million people lost electricity and 150,000 lost telephone service. More than 63,500 houses were totally destroyed and more than 124,000 badly damaged. As a result, nearly 175,000 people were left homeless. The storm surge reached as high as 17 feet in Palmetto Bay area. Agriculture suffered extensively: 85% of avocado, lime, and mango crops were lost. In the Everglades, more than a quarter of trees were damaged. Almost all of the destruction was caused by the storm strong winds. Fortunately, these strong winds were confined to a relatively small area. Had Andrew been slightly larger, it would have reached till Fort Lauderdale, causing even more havoc. In total, Andrew caused more than $27 billion in damage, and left 65 people dead. It was then considered the costliest hurricane to make landfall anywhere in the United States.
Michael made landfall in Panama City, Florida on October 10 2018. It had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, a Category 5. Wherever the hurricane’s eyewall impacted there was devastating damage, including total destruction of structures. The forests in the area were flattened to the ground. The storm surge reached 14 ft in Mexico Beach, reducing entire neighborhoods to nothing but bare foundation and leaving roads covered in bricks, lumber, and structural debris. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) assessed that Michael caused a total of 50 deaths in Florida. Total agricultural loss statewide was estimated at $1.49 billion, while property loss were almost $5 billion. Insurance claims were at $5.53 billion.
Despite the sad history of devastation and death that hurricanes have brought to Florida, many residents tend to disregard warnings and evacuation orders. Unfortunately, every year we see how devastating these natural phenomena can be.
Hurricanes are deadly. There’s nothing peaceful on seeing your property affected and your loved ones injured. The most important valuable you have is you yourself and your loved ones. Keep them safe. Follow protocol, evacuate, protect your property and protect your life. By being always on the alert, you can help save lives and investments. Remember, you don’t know where a storm will hit next.