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Florida Natural Disaster Preparedness

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Florida Hurricane History

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
In August of 1935, a small, unnamed storm passed through the Bahamas, and approached the Florida Keys. On September 1, the storm became a Category 1 hurricane. That night, and during most of the next day, the hurricane strengthened more quickly than anyone could predict. By the time it reached the Florida Keys on the night of September 2, the storm had become a devastating Category 5 hurricane. The Labor Day Hurricane, as it came to be known, killed over 400 people and caused incredible destruction. Buildings were leveled, and roads were washed away. A train was washed off its tracks, and the tracks were destroyed. Today, the Labor Day Hurricane serves as a reminder of the unpredictability and power of Florida weather.

Hurricane Donna in 1960
While the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 came and went very quickly, 1960 saw a powerful hurricane maintain its destructive force for a long time. After meandering through the Caribbean, Hurricane Donna reached the Florida Keys at Category 4 strength. It lashed the Keys on September 10, then moved into the Gulf of Mexico. It turned toward Florida, and made landfall near Fort Myers – again, at Category 4 intensity. Hurricane Donna crossed the Florida peninsula, and moved north, along the east coast of the United States. It affected states all along the east coast, particularly North Carolina and New York. It finally moved away from the U.S. on September 13. Hurricane Donna killed over 300 people, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992

One of the most destructive storms in U.S. history, Hurricane Andrew tore into South Florida on August 24, 1992. At the time, it was classified as a Category 4 hurricane, but later analysis led to its reclassification as a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Andrew made landfall with sustained winds of 165 mph, and wind gusts as high as 177 mph. Andrew obliterated much of the town of Homestead, and in the surrounding area, tens of thousands of homes were destroyed or severely damaged. In addition to its powerful winds, Andrew brought a storm surge of 17 feet. After moving across South Florida, Andrew entered the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually struck Louisiana. Hurricane Andrew caused fewer than 50 deaths – a significantly lower toll than those of earlier hurricanes. The financial impact, however, was enormous. The Bahamas, which Andrew hit first, sustained $250 million in damage. The U.S. suffered losses of $26.5 billion, the vast majority of which occurred in South Florida.

Hurricane Andrew
Damage from Hurricane Andrew
Damage from Hurricane Andrew

The Four Storms of 2004
The 2004 hurricane season was incredibly active, with Florida being affected by four hurricanes.

  • On August 13, Hurricane Charley roared ashore near the Gulf coast town of Punta Gorda. Charley’s winds were close to 150 mph, making it an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Originally, forecasters predicted that Charley would make landfall near Tampa Bay, but the storm made a late turn to the east. Hurricane Charley moved quickly across the Florida peninsula, maintaining hurricane strength the entire time. Charley caused 15 deaths, ten of which were in the U.S. It caused about $14 billion of damage to the U.S.
  • Early on September 5, Hurricane Frances made landfall on Florida’s east coast as a Category 2 storm. Frances moved westward across Florida, and entered the Gulf of Mexico on September 6. Later that day, Frances, as a tropical storm, made a second Florida landfall. It moved north across the Florida panhandle, and eventually dissipated over land. Frances caused fewer than ten deaths, most of them in the U.S. Frances caused about $9 billion in damage to the U.S.
  • On September 16, Hurricane Ivan struck the easternmost part of Alabama, and caused extensive damage to Alabama and Florida. At that point, Ivan’s winds were close to 120 mph. Ivan weakened as it moved northeast across Alabama and the eastern U.S. Its remnants emerged in the Atlantic, and, instead of dissipating in the northern Atlantic as many storms do, moved slowly to the south and began to reorganize. As a low-pressure system, Ivan crossed South Florida on September 21. In the Gulf of Mexico, Ivan again became a tropical storm. It weakened to a tropical depression, and make its final landfall, on September 24, in Louisiana. Ivan was responsible for 92 deaths. Its U.S. damage reached approximately $13 billion.
  • On September 16, while Hurricane Ivan was wreaking havoc on Alabama and Florida, Category 1 Hurricane Jeanne made landfall on the island of Hispaniola. As the storm moved slowly northward over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, its massive accumulation of rain caused flooding and mudslides. In Haiti, Hurricane Jeanne killed over 3,000 people. After crossing Hispaniola, Jeanne moved north, into the western Atlantic. It turned to the east, then the south, and finally to the west, making a loop to the east of Florida. It strengthened as it moved over the Bahamas, and on September 26, Category 3 Hurricane Jeanne made landfall in almost exactly the same place Hurricane Frances had landed three weeks before. Jeanne weakened as it moved across Florida, and it eventually turned north and moved through the eastern U.S. before dissipating over the Atlantic. Jeanne cause over $6.5 billion worth of damage to the U.S.

Hurricane Dennis in 2005

On July 10, Hurricane Dennis struck the Florida panhandle, bringing winds of close to 120 mph (Category 3). The storm left widespread damage and power outages, before dissipating over Canada. Dennis left dozens of people dead in the Caribbean and the U.S., and the storm caused about $2.23 billion of damage in the U.S.

Navarre Beach, FL, July 18, 2005 — Utility and road repairs along Navarre Beach. Hurricane Dennis destroyed roads, electricity and piled the community with sand. FEMA Photo/Leif Skoogfors

Hurricane Wilma in 2005
On October 19, Hurricane Wilma had the distinction of creating the lowest pressure ever recorded in an Atlantic storm: 882 mb. Wilma formed in the Caribbean, and moved northwest, toward the Yucatan Peninsula. On October 21, Wilma struck the vacation destination of Cozumel, packing winds of about 150 mph. Wilma then turned northeast, and headed straight toward Florida. On October 24, Category 3 Wilma made landfall near Naples, with winds of about 125 mph. The storm crossed Florida in under five hours, and weakened only slightly. It emerged in the Atlantic as a Category 2 hurricane. Wilma was directly responsible for about two dozen deaths. The damage in Florida reached well over $15 billion.

Hurricane Irma 2017
On Sept. 8, 2017 Before landfall, Irma became a Category 4 storm and ended up passing through the Florida Keys with ferocious wind and storm surge. Hurricane Irma was heading toward Tampa in an area south of Lakeland — a community inland and to the east of the heavily populated Tampa Bay region. A hurricane center update at midnight that day said Irma remained a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 100 mph (155 kph) and was located about 25 miles (35 kilometers) south of Lakeland.