Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Remembering hurricanes from our past

The list of Florida hurricanes encompasses approximately 486 tropical or subtropical cyclones that affected the state of Florida. More storms hit Florida than any other U.S. state, and since 1851 only eighteen hurricane seasons passed without a known storm impacting the state. Of the 34 major hurricanes in Florida’s recorded history of storms to make landfall or produce Category 3 winds in Florida, 18, have occurred in the month of September. I thought it would be fitting to reflect on some of Florida's best known September hurricanes.

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was the first ever Category Five Hurricane on record to hit the United States. The compact and intense hurricane caused extreme damage in the upper Florida Keys, as a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet affected the region. The hurricane's strong winds destroyed most of the buildings in the Islamorada area, and many World War I veteran workers were killed by the storm surge. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad were severely damaged or destroyed. The evacuation train, which left Homestead was filled with veterans and 100s of other locals from the keys came to a sudden halt. When it reached the Islamorada water tank the 10 cars were tossed off the track and over on their sides by powerful waves that were now surging over the islands. The engine alone remained on its wheels, but it ceased to move because the fire in the box was out. The hurricane also caused additional damage in northwest Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In total, more than 400 people were killed. 

Hurricane Easy Easy hit Florida in September of 1950 and produced the scariest weather for a 24-hour period in this section of the Gulf Coast. Easy hit Cedar Key on Sept. 5 as Category 3 storm and looped back out to sea before hitting Cedar Key again, which caused the town to face the same side of the storm twice and experience the eye for 2 1/2 hours. Following the loop, Easy headed back out to the Gulf briefly in a southeasterly direction before hitting land again at Hernando Beach and heading northeast across the state toward Jacksonville.The hurricane produced 100 mph winds in Cedar Key for 9 1/2 hour! Because of its unusual trek and low barometric pressure (28.30 inches), Easy caused some unusual occurrences. Cedar Key experienced 24.5 inches of rain in a three-day period, while Yankeetown took on 38.7 inches of rain in 24 hours, a record amount for the U.S. at the time.The low barometric pressure was also blamed for mysterious blisters forming on cars following the storm. Apparently the low pressure caused air pockets to form under layers of paint.
Cedar Key lost its entire fishing fleet of more than 100 boats. Ninety percent of its buildings were damaged and 150 homes lost their roofs. Miraculously, no one in Cedar key was killed by the storm.

In 1960 Hurricane Donna caused big trouble for Florida. After swiping the Florida Keys and striking land near Fort Myers on Sept. 10, 'Deadly Donna' did not travel along the usual path that storms of her magnitude usually take. Instead of heading back to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, Donna took on the unusual distinction of being the only hurricane of record to produce hurricane-force winds throughout the U.S. East Coast from Florida, the Mid-Atlantic states and New England. The hurricane's center passed through 60 miles west of Miami, sparing Broward County. This time, Broward residents only experienced 80 mile-per-hour winds as Donna's fringes passed by, causing a few trees and signs to tumble down. Unfortunately, residents in the Florida Keys fared worse, having to endure 13-foot storm surges and 150 mile-per-hour winds. Bridges were washed away and homes resembled splintered matchsticks for miles. The Fort Lauderdale News reported that the Tampa Weather Bureau predicted statewide property damage to reach $2 billion. Hurricane Donna was the fifth-strongest hurricane of record to hit the U.S., causing 50 deaths, $387 million in property damage and affected over 50 million people according to the National Hurricane Center.

Fifty years ago this week, Hurricane Dora hit St. Augustine. It was the first hurricane to strike north of Stuart on the East Coast of Florida since 1880. While the subsequent 10-foot storm surge and 125 mph winds severely damaged the St. Augustine area, it was the back end of Dora that caught the attention of Citrus County residents and emergency personnel on Sept. 10, 1964. Pushed along by 60 mph winds, a high tide, 6 feet above normal, rolled in, flooding the Gulf Coast from Citrus County to the Panhandle.

Category-2 Hurricane Frances came ashore on the central east coast of Florida on September 5, 2004. Hurricane Frances was the sixth named storm, the fourth hurricane, and the third major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. The system crossing the open Atlantic during mid to late August, moving to the north of the Lesser Antilles while strengthening. Frances then passed over the central sections of the state of Florida in the U.S. only three weeks after Hurricane Charley, causing significant damage to the state's citrus crop, and closing schools. The storm then moved briefly offshore Florida into the northeast Gulf of Mexico and made a second U.S. landfall at the Florida Panhandle before accelerating northeast through the eastern United States near the Appalachians into Atlantic Canada while weakening. A significant tornado outbreak accompanied the storm across the eastern United States, nearly equaling the outbreak from Hurricane Beulah. Very heavy rains fell in association with this slow moving and relatively large hurricane, which led to floods in Florida and North Carolina. Some areas of Florida received over 13 inches as the system moved slowly through the state. Heavy rains caused a large sinkhole to develop on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County, which closed the highway to traffic. Frances caused heavy damage to the large Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, ripping off over a thousand 4-by-10 foot aluminum panels used to clad the building. A total of 49 lives were lost from the cyclone. Damages totaled $12 billion.

Hurricane Ivan  lived up to name of "Ivan the Terrible when it made landfall on September 16, 2004. The hurricane was the strongest hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season and the tenth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. The cyclone formed as a Cape Verde-type hurricane in early September and became the ninth named storm, the sixth hurricane, and the fourth major hurricane of the year. Ivan reached Category 5 strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the strongest possible category. At its peak in the Gulf of Mexico, Ivan was the size of the state of Texas. It also spawned 117 tornadoes across the eastern United States. After peaking in strength, the hurricane moved north-northwest across the Gulf of Mexico to strike Gulf Shores, Alabama as a strong Category 3 storm, causing significant damage. Ivan dropped heavy rains on the Southeastern United States as it progressed northeast and east through the eastern United States, becoming an extratropical cyclone. The remnant low from the storm moved into the western subtropical Atlantic and regenerated into a tropical cyclone, which then moved across Florida. Ivan caused an estimated $13 billion in damages to the United States.

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