LOS ANGELES - Florida is notorious for being hurricane territory, and because of its positioning on a peninsula boasting 8,436 miles of coastline in prime hurricane real estate, the opportunity for destruction is immense. As hurricane Dorian approaches the sunshine state, here is a look at how it’s setting up to compare to the five worst hurricanes in Florida’s history.
"Florida has been hit by more hurricanes than any other state. Collectively, there probably has been more loss of life and damage through the years than any other state," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said.
Below are the five most devastating hurricanes to ravage the state of Florida, according to Alberto Moscoso, Communications Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
The Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, also referred to as the San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane, hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 13 before traveling over the Bahamas and ultimately making landfall in Florida near Palm Beach on Sept. 16.
Palm Beach reported a minimum pressure of 27.43 in., making it the fourth-strongest hurricane on record to hit the U.S., according to the national Hurricane Center (NHC) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There were heavy casualties and extensive destruction, the worst of which occurred at Lake Okeechobee, where the lake surged 6 to 9 feet, inundating surrounding areas.
1,836 people died in Florida alone, in large part due to the lake surge.
Damage to Florida alone estimated to cost $25 billion if it were to have happened recently.
At first, Tropical Storm Andrew didn’t seem like it was going to explode into a full-blown hurricane. It developed in the east Atlantic on Aug. 16 and then spent a week meandering west. But just before it reached the Bahamas on Aug. 23, it rapidly intensified to a Category 5 and made landfall on the Florida coast the next day.
Hurricane Andrew is one of only three land-falling Category 5 hurricanes on record to affect the U.S. mainland, along with Hurricane Camille in 1969 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
"In Florida alone, 25,524 homes were destroyed and 101,241 others were damaged. In Homestead, 99.2 percent of mobile homes were completely destroyed," Moscoso told AccuWeather.
- High winds damaged or destroyed over 125,000 homes and left at least 160,000 people homeless in Dade County alone.
- At the time, $27 billion was recorded in damage, which adjusted would be approximately $50 billion today.
- There were 61 deaths, 44 of which were reported in Florida.
Labor Day has a long history of bringing devastating hurricanes to Florida, beginning with the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. According to the NOAA, 25 hurricanes have made U.S. landfall over past Labor Day weekends since 1851, seven of which hit Florida.
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was first detected east of the central Bahamas on Aug. 29. According to NHC, “phenomenal strengthening” occurred over the next couple of days as it drew closer to Florida. By the time it reached the middle Florida Keys on Sept. 2, it was a Category 5. After moving through the Keys, it turned northward almost parallel to Florida’s west coast until making landfall again near Cedar Key as a Category 2.
- Pressure of 26.35 inches measured in Long Key, Fla. makes it the most intense hurricane of record to hit the U.S. and the third most intense hurricane of record in the Atlantic basin (only Hurricanes Wilma and Gilbert were stronger).
- Maximum sustained winds at landfall were estimated at 185 mph.
- Winds and tides together resulted in 408 deaths in the Florida Keys alone, primarily among WWI veterans working in the area. 259 WWI veterans who were living in government camps while constructing the Overseas Highway were killed by the hurricane. It also destroyed every structure in the upper Keys.
- Damage in the U.S. was estimated at $6 million.
The Miami Hurricane was so devastating that it ended the economic boom that had been occurring in South Florida at the time, according to the NHC. Had it occurred today, it would likely have caused around $90 billion worth of damage.
"When hurricanes track from south to north through Florida, they tend to cause more death and destruction. That was the case with the 1935 Labor Day, Great Miami and the Okeechobee hurricanes," Kottlowski said.
Also referred to as the “Great Miami” hurricane, the eye of this Category 4 hurricane moved directly over downtown Miami and Miami Beach the morning of Sept. 18. Many residents at the time had never experienced a hurricane before and made the grave mistake of going outside as the eye passed over, thinking the storm was done, which ultimately caused many casualties.
On Sept. 20, the hurricane arrived in Pensacola. Twenty-four hours of heavy rainfall and winds coupled with storm surge destroyed almost every pier, warehouse and vessel on Pensacola Bay.
- Produced highest sustained winds ever recorded in the U.S. at the time — 150 mph.
- Barometric pressure fell to 27.61 inches as the eye passed over Miami.
- Hundreds of people were killed in the town of Moore Haven alone. The town sat on the south side of Lake Okeechobee and was completely flooded by lake surge. The floodwaters didn’t recede for weeks.
- Storm surge of nearly 15 feet was reported in Coconut Grove.
- The Red Cross reported the death toll at 373 and injuries at 6,381.
5. Hurricane Irma 2017
Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 4 with winds nearing 130 mph on Sept. 10 at Cudjoe Key after ripping through the Virgin Islands. It then made a second landfall later that day as a Category 3 when it hit Marco Island.
- The Florida Keys were hit exceptionally hard — 25 percent of buildings were destroyed and 65 percent were significantly damaged.
- Maintained a maximum sustained wind of 185 mph for 37 hours, the longest in the satellite era.
- Irma was a Category 5 storm for longer than all other Atlantic hurricanes, with the exception of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
- Produced 21 tornadoes in Florida, three were rated EF2.
- Fifth most expensive hurricane in U.S. history according to NHC, costing approximately $52 billion when adjusted for inflation.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hurricane Dorian
Though scientists can predict some of what may occur during a hurricane, there are almost always surprises in store from these massive natural events. Here’s what we know about Dorian as it continues to move closer to U.S. soil:
It’s projected to hit Florida’s central or northeast Atlantic coast this weekend — which is a rather odd spot, given that hurricanes rarely touch down there, according to The Weather Channel.
"In NOAA’s Historical Hurricane Tracks database going back to 1851, there is no record of any hurricane having made landfall at Category 3, 4, or 5 strength on Florida's Atlantic coast from Fort Pierce north to the Georgia border," according to The Weather Channel.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen this time or that residents of the area shouldn’t prepare for the worst.
"Keep in mind that the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale is only one measure of a hurricane's danger. Even a hurricane weaker than Category 3 can pack dangerous storm surge, and tropical-storm-force winds can be enough to bring down trees and power lines," meteorologist Bob Henson explained.
The NHC says that there is an increasing likelihood of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast later this weekend or early next week. As of right now, it’s too early to accurately determine where the highest storm surge will occur. The risk of devastating hurricane-force winds also continues to increase.
As of Thursday morning, the NHC reported that Hurricane Dorian is about 330 miles east of the southeastern Bahamas with maximum sustained wind speed of 85 mph. It’s moving at about 13 mph northwest, and this trajectory is expected to continue through Friday, when the NHC predicts Dorian will become a major hurricane.
Dorian is then expected to a west-northwestward to westward path by Friday night and into the weekend, which would have Dorian passing over the Bahamas completely around Sunday evening.The estimated minimum central pressure at the time of NHC’s report was 29.12 inches.
Dorian is expected to produce 5-10 inches of rainfall in coastal regions of the southeast U.S. this weekend and into early next week.
“Hurricane Dorian is now expected to be a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane at landfall on Monday afternoon,” said Jonathan Lord, chief of Flager County Emergency Management, in an announcement following Gov. Ron DeSantis’s 26-county “State of Emergency” declaration Wednesday. “We are expecting storm surge for many areas east of Interstate 95. We will be enacting evacuations and starting public sheltering on Saturday morning.”