A map of Florida’s hurricane landfalls over the past 50 years shows a gap over Sarasota and Manatee counties.
So when a Sarasotan brags about his house having survived “all the hurricanes,” ask for specifics. Sarasota County’s last direct hit by the eye of a hurricane was in 1944, a Category 3 cyclone that hit north Casey Key and Osprey. That was the only one since 1842, and the county’s only “major” hurricane in recorded history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The eye of the famous October 1921 storm that swamped Sarasota’s then-seedy bayfront with a storm surge was more than 100 miles west of the city when it passed and made landfall around Tarpon Springs.
It illustrates the lesson that hurricanes are large and can cause significant damage and loss of life far from where the eye comes ashore.
The region has had dozens of near-misses, including at least a dozen instances of hurricane-force winds, according to the website HurricaneCity.com. But that has happened only twice since 1960, the last being the passing of Hurricane Alma in the Gulf in 1966.
In 1946, the eye of an unnamed Category 1 storm passed over northern Longboat Key and just west of downtown Bradenton.
For whatever reason, the Sarasota-Manatee area has had a long streak of good fortune when it comes to hurricanes. Including the two hurricanes, 10 tropical storms and three tropical depressions have directly hit either of the two counties since 1842, and damaged coastal areas, but nothing on the scale of Hurricane Charley’s devastation in Charlotte and DeSoto counties in 2004.
How many of you have had first-hand experience with that?
Still, Florida is notorious for its hurricane history, of which we will test your knowledge in this quiz:
1. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest weather disaster in U.S. history with more than 6,000 deaths, and as many as 12,000, most from storm surge. What was the second-deadliest hurricane?
a. Hurricane Katrina
b. The Great Miami Hurricane
c. The San Felipe Hurricane
d. Hurricane Andrew
2. Which hurricane, in essence, ended the Florida Land Boom?
b. “Great Miami”
3. Which hurricane dramatically raised property insurance rates and prompted governments across the state to stiffen their building codes?
4. Which storm, in “normalized damage,” was the costliest hurricane (in dollars) in U.S. history?
b. “Great Miami”
d. The Long Island Express
5. From this list, choose the four hurricanes that crisscrossed Florida in 2004, giving rise to the expression “hurricane fatigue.”
6. How long has it been, in hurricane seasons, since Florida received a direct hit from a hurricane?
7. This storm in 1960 stands out in the memory of longtime Floridians because it covered nearly the entire peninsula with hurricane-force winds.
8. This hurricane in 1985 could not make up its mind and circled around in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, swamping Sarasota’s bayfront marina with a minor storm surge.
9. A legendary hurricane pulled the water out of the Manatee River and drowned a pioneer and his horse when it flowed back in. This hurricane happened in which decade?
10. More than 400 people, including hundreds of World War I veterans, drowned when the Florida Keys were inundated by a hurricane storm surge in 1935. With which holiday is this hurricane associated?
a. Memorial Day
b. Independence Day
c. Labor Day
d. Thanksgiving Day
1. c. The San Felipe Hurricane is also known as the Okeechobee Hurricane. In 1928, it passed over the lake and sent a storm surge of 20 feet over a small earthen levee and into the towns on its southern shore, including Pahokee, South Bay and Belle Glade. At least 1,800, and as many as 2,500, people died. Many were migrant farm workers and could not be identified. In response, the state and federal governments built a complex dike system around the lake in stages from the 1930s to the 1960s.
2. b. The Great Miami Hurricane of September 1926 was the final nail in the coffin for a real estate boom that had been deflating for months. Making landfall south of Miami, the “right” side of the storm devastated Miami Beach and killed nearly 400 people. Florida did not need the bad press in northern newspapers, and the real estate speculators, developers and investors went broke, giving Florida a head start on the Great Depression.
3. a. Andrew hit Homestead, south of Miami, on Aug. 24, 1992, and caused about $26 billion in damage. Insurance rates skyrocketed, and the Florida Legislature created insurance funds to make up for the 11 overexposed insurance companies that went out of business because of Andrew-related claims. Building scientists determined that well-built houses survived while weakly constructed houses blew apart. A new statewide building code, passed in 1998, required the installation of steel fasteners to tie roofs and walls to foundations, better roofing materials, the bracing of gable ends and either impact-resistant windows or shutters to protect the envelope of new houses. Manufacturers of some building materials now brag that their products are “Miami-Dade certified.”
4. b. Great Miami. Although the real estate boom had built up Miami for several years, there was nowhere near the density and amount of development in Dade County that exists today. Experts use “normalized damage” analyses to estimate the amount of damage if a particular hurricane struck the same area today, accounting for inflation, population growth and wealth concentration. In normalized dollars, the Great Miami Hurricane, which was estimated to have caused $100 million in damage in 1926, would cause at least $164.8 billion in losses today, according to NOAA.
5. Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan. Frances and Jeanne and Charley each passed over Bartow in Polk County within 44 days of each other in September 2004. Ivan walloped Penscacola.
6. a. Ten years. After a decade without hurricanes, Floridians are at risk of “hurricane complacency,” says director Rick Knabb of the National Hurricane Center. “It only takes one” to cause you a lot of pain, so be prepared.
7. d. Hurricane Donna was tracked by Sarasota schoolchildren, most of whom were born in northern states, after it formed near the Cape Verde islands off Africa in late August. Barreling westward at 20 mph, it reached Category 5 strength before diminishing to Category 4. On Sept. 10, it struck Marathon in the Florida Keys, and, as coastal communities from Tampa southward prepared for the worst, made landfall south of Naples. This large storm swept up the interior of the peninsula, hitting Arcadia directly and delivering 90 mph winds to Sarasota. But, the Herald-Tribune reported in a headline, “This Area Spared Main Blow.” Half the state’s grapefruit crop was destroyed, and all damages reached $350 million in value.
8. a. From Aug. 28 to Sept. 4, 1985, Hurricane Elena treated forecasters the way Donald Trump has treated political pundits — constantly deviating from the predicted path. First it was supposed to hit the central Gulf Coast. Then it turned eastward, and stalled about 50 miles west of Cedar Key. For two days. It looped a bit, and the counterclockwise winds had plenty of time to push water into harbors in Southwest and West Central Florida. It eventually made landfall in Mississippi and caused $1.3 billion in damage, but its frustrating twists and turns prompted the largest evacuation in U.S. history up to that time.
9. b., the 1840s. In 1846, a strong hurricane known as the San Francisco de Borja hurricane passed just off the coast and sucked the water out of the Manatee River, according to legend and historical accounts. The unfortunate pioneer was plantation owner Hector Braden, who was found, according to legend, still upright on the horse and clutching the reins. Perhaps he tried to cross the river during the eye of the storm and his horse became stuck.
10. c. Labor Day. There is no legend here. This storm is considered the most intense hurricane ever to hit the nation, by wind speed and central pressure at landfall, and was the first of three Cat-5 storms to hit the U.S. mainland in the 20th century (Camille, 1969, and Andrew, 1992). With 185 mph winds, a storm surge of 18 feet and a barometric pressure of just 892 millibars (Andrew was 922 mb, Donna and the Great Miami 930 mb), it is no wonder that it had the power to knock a train off its track near Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, that train, dispatched from Miami, was carrying World War I veterans who were working on the Overseas Highway. Hundreds of veterans died in the storm surge. Other victims were blasted by wind-blown sand. In sweltering heat, the decomposing bodies of the dead were retrieved from the mangroves and had to be burned or hastily buried in whatever soft ground could be found. It tracked north in the Gulf, passing about 20 miles west of Lido Key.