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Florida's Top 10 Weather Events of the 20th Century

1926 Hurricane - South Florida, Sept. 18, 1926

The storm waters of the FFCantic united with the waters of Biscayne Bay and the storm surge swept westward into the city of Miami early on the 18th. Maximum winds were 138 mph. About 18,000 homes were either completely demolished or had roofs torn off. Over 100 people were killed in the Miami area; about 5,000 were injured. This hurricane then moved out into the Gulf of Mexico, passing just south of the Panhandle and affecting the Pensacola area on the 20th, before making final landfall between New Orleans and Mobile. Total death toll over 240 people.


1928 Hurricane - South Florida/Lake Okeechobee, Sept. 16-27, 1928

The 5th most intense landfalling hurricane in U.S. history moved in from the FFCantic and across Lake Okeechobee's northern shore, sending a storm surge southward that flooded the low area south of the lake. At least 1836 migrant workers died in the flood, making this the second deadliest U. S. hurricane on record. In response to this storm, dikes were built around the lake to prevent future tragedies.


The Great Labor Day Hurricane - The Keys, Sept. 2, 1935

This famous Labor Day storm was only 40 miles in diameter, but it remains the most intense U. S. landfalling hurricane on record. It killed 408 people in Florida, most by drowning, making it the 5th deadliest U. S. hurricane on record. Winds reached 200 mph, and the barometer dropped to 26.35 inches at Long Key. A rescue train sent to remove World War I veterans and residents from the Florida Keys was swept from the tracks. The tracks of the Flagler Railroad were washed from the Long Key viaduct at an elevation of 30 feet above mean low water. A survey by the U. S. Corp. of Engineers sometime after the storm found that the tide level never reached the rails there, but the hurricane surge and wind driven waves superimposed on the tide probably helped in carrying the tracks away.


Hurricane Donna - Keys/Ft. Myers/Daytona, Sept. 10-11, 1960

This hurricane (6th most intense U. S. hurricane at landfall), crossed over the middle Florida Keys between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on the 10th. After keeping a short distance offshore, it reached the coastline again south of Naples and then turned north over Ft. Myers. The storm then moved northeastward across the peninsula, going out to sea a short distance north of Daytona Beach. At Sombrero light on the Keys, the highest wind speed was 106 mph with gusts to 150 mph. At Tavernier, the highest winds were 120 mph, which was the highest point on the dial. Maximum sustained winds on the Keys have been estimated around 140 mph, with gusts possibly as high as 175 mph to 180 mph. The lowest barometric pressure reported was at Craig Key where three barometers ranged from 27.4 to 27.5 inches. The pipeline supplying the Keys with fresh water was broken in at least 3 places. The Overseas Highway was overwashed by storm tides in several places. Wind damage was enormous on the Keys and on the southwest coast from Everglades City to Punta Gorda. Rainfall ranged from 5 to 10 inches in an 80- to 100-mile wide belt extending roughly 50 to 75 miles to the right of the storm track and 40 to 50 miles to the left of the track. Lake and stream overflow forced evacuation of some homes on the central peninsula. High waters also closed many roads and inundated considerable agricultural land throughout the southern and central peninsula. At least a dozen people were killed in Florida with 1794 injuries reported.


Tornado Outbreak - Central Florida, April 4, 1966

Tornadoes, some of the strongest on record in Florida, moved in from the Gulf of Mexico and tracked from the Tampa Bay area to Brevard County, killing 11 and injuring over 500. Tornadoes first struck in Pinellas county near St. Petersburg and Clearwater, damaging 36 homes, then moved across Tampa Bay through Hillsborough Co. damaging a junior high school and destroying 150 homes - killing three. Tornadoes next moved through Polk County. The most severe damage occurred at Gibsonia and Galloway where nearly 100 homes were destroyed and seven people were killed. Other tornadoes were reported in Lake Juliana, Lakeland, and north of Haines City where many trailers were destroyed. A woman was killed in a trailer near Davenport. Tornadoes were next reported in Osceola Co. at Kissimmee and St. Cloud. Another tornado moved from Holopaw to Rockledge to south Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach. In Cocoa Beach, 150 trailers were ripped apart causing over 100 injuries. Over 20 frame homes and a shopping center were destroyed.


Severe Cold Snap - Statewide, January 18-21, 1977

A severely cold Arctic airmass, culminating one of the coldest winters ever recorded in the eastern United States, swept into Florida. Snow was reported as far south as Homestead and a severe freeze effected all of the state's citrus and vegetable crops.

In south Florida's agricultural areas, the freeze was one of the most severe of this century. On the night of January 19-20, temperatures dropped to 27 degrees at the Florida Agricultural Experiment station in Homestead, but some farmers in this area reported temperatures near 20 degrees. Temperatures were below freezing for 10 to 14 hours, and 28 degrees or colder for 4 to 8 hours. An unusually heavy frost accompanied these freezing temperatures and extended to the immediate coast. Both West Palm Beach and Miami Beach recorded all-time lows of 27 degrees and 32 degrees, respectively. Over North and Central Florida, temperatures were even lower, but not all areas had all-time record lows. Temperatures reached all-time record lows of 10 degrees at Pensacola and 20 degrees at Orlando.

A U. S. Department of Agriculture report indicated the following crop losses: Citrus 35%, Vegetables 95-100%, Commercial Flowers 50-75%, Permanent Pasture Land 50%, Sugar Cane 40%. In addition, there were severe losses in the tropical fish industry. It is estimated the freeze cost the Florida economy $2 billion (1977) dollars.


Cold Spell/Hard Freeze - Statewide, December 22-25, 1989

A cold outbreak and hard freeze affected all 67 counties in Florida. Many daily and some monthly and all-time low temperature records were tied or broken. Low temperatures were in the teens in north and north central Florida and in the 20s the central and south central parts of the state. Snow and sleet fell as far south as a Sarasota to Melbourne line, with a maximum of two to three inches in the panhandle. Northeast Florida experienced its first white Christmas in recorded history and airports and interstates were closed. Many traffic accidents and several fatalities occurred on ice-covered roads in North Florida. At least six people died of hypothermia and another four in space-heater related fires. Extensive crop damage, including a loss of about 30% of the $1.4 billion citrus crop, left tens of thousands of migrant farm workers unemployed. Winter vegetables, berries, nursery ornamentals and fish suffered heavy losses. Power blackouts hit hundreds of thousands of residents at various times during the holiday weekend.


Hurricane Andrew - South Florida, August 24, 1992

Hurricane Andrew roared ashore in southern Dade County near Homestead and Florida City as the third-most intense landfalling hurricane in U.S. History (2nd in Florida). This Category 4 hurricane caused widespread damage to homes and businesses, with many destroyed in south Dade. Many trees, power lines, light poles, etc., were downed in areas from Broward County on the north to Collier County on the west to Dade County and the upper Keys on the south. Fifteen people were killed as a direct result of the storm, mostly from flying debris and collapsing roofs and walls, or falling furniture. Twenty-six others were killed indirectly. Some of these deaths occurred while cleaning up storm debris and from auto accidents related to malfunctioning traffic lights and debris across roadways. Property damage was estimated to have exceeded $25 billion, and crop damage was at least $1 billion, making Andrew the most costly weather disaster in U.S. History. The natural reef, housing coral and other marine life, was very badly damaged. Ocean Reef in the extreme upper Keys also suffered heavy damage. About 660,000 people were without power for periods from a few hours to several months.


The "Storm of the Century" - Statewide, March 12-13, 1993

The "Storm of the Century" or "SuperStorm" roared across Florida producing a variety of severe and unusual weather conditions over a period of about 18 hours from late Friday, the 12th, through late afternoon Saturday, the 13th. A severe squall line raced eastward at over 50 mph ahead of an intense low producing several tornadoes and strong downbursts as it moved through the state causing seven fatalities. This was followed by an unprecedented (for the Gulf Coast) winter storm surge of 9 to 12 feet in Taylor County, with storm surges and/or tidal and wind driven flooding of 5 to 9 feet elsewhere along the Gulf Coast to the Keys. This was followed by a period of 8 to 12 hours where sustained winds were up to 50 mph and gusts reached 70 mph, keeping tides much above normal along the west coast and causing severe beach erosion in many areas. As colder air poured in behind the intense low, up to four inches of snow fell in the panhandle from north of Pensacola to Crestview, and a trace to 3 inches of snow fell elsewhere across north Florida. Record or near record low temperatures occurred over much of the state the following two nights.

The total number of fatalities from the storm was 47, including 14 from storm surge and flooding, 7 from tornadoes and/or strong downbursts, and 4 from high winds in the aftermath of the squall line. Eleven people drowned offshore in the Gulf of Mexico after strong winds swamped or capsized ships (including 7 crewmen from a 200-ft Honduran freighter). Eleven others died during rescue operations and cleanup activities. Total property damage was estimated at $1.6 billion.


Deadliest Tornado Outbreak in State History - Central Florda, February 22-23, 1998

During the late night and early morning hours of 22-23 February 1998 (Sunday - Monday), the most devastating tornado outbreak ever to occur in the state of Florida in terms of both loss of life and property damage, occurred from Kissimmee to Sanford to Daytona Beach. Forty-two people died as a result of the tornadoes and more than 260 others were injured. Over 3,000 structures were damaged, and more than 700 were completely destroyed. A total of seven confirmed tornadoes occurred that night. Four of the tornadoes were unusually long-lived and produced damage tracks of between 8 and 38 miles, resulting in the majority of damage and all of the fatalities. Uncommon for Florida tornadoes, the estimated wind speed for three of these twisters reached 200 mph which is on the high end of F3 intensity on the Fujita scale.


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