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Florida's Hurricane History

Florida's Hurricane History

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by Jay Barnes, Steve Lyons (Foreword by)

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The Sunshine State has an exceptionally stormy past. Vulnerable to storms that arise in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, Florida has been hit by far more hurricanes than any other state. In many ways, hurricanes have helped shape Florida's history. Early efforts by the French, Spanish, and English to claim the territory as their own were often thwarted


The Sunshine State has an exceptionally stormy past. Vulnerable to storms that arise in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, Florida has been hit by far more hurricanes than any other state. In many ways, hurricanes have helped shape Florida's history. Early efforts by the French, Spanish, and English to claim the territory as their own were often thwarted by hurricanes. More recently, storms have affected such massive projects as Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad and efforts to manage water in South Florida.

In this book, Jay Barnes offers a fascinating and informative look at Florida's hurricane history. Drawing on meteorological research, news reports, first-person accounts, maps, and historical photographs, he traces all of the notable hurricanes that have affected the state over the last four-and-a-half centuries, from the great storms of the early colonial period to the devastating hurricanes of 2004 and 2005—Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina, and Wilma.

In addition to providing a comprehensive chronology of more than one hundred individual storms, Florida's Hurricane History includes information on the basics of hurricane dynamics, formation, naming, and forecasting. It explores the origins of the U.S. Weather Bureau and government efforts to study and track hurricanes in Florida, home of the National Hurricane Center. But the book does more than examine how hurricanes have shaped Florida's past; it also looks toward the future, discussing the serious threat that hurricanes continue to pose to both lives and property in the state.

Filled with more than 200 photographs and maps, the book also features a foreword by Steve Lyons, tropical weather expert for the Weather Channel. It will serve as both an essential reference on hurricanes in Florida and a remarkable source of the stories—of tragedy and destruction, rescue and survival—that foster our fascination with these powerful storms.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A finely researched, brilliant appraisal of the legendary civil rights organization's philosophical underpinnings, tactics and strategies, organizational structure, influences on the emergence of the New Left, struggles aimed at dismantling white supremacy across the South and its challenges to remain effective during the latter years of the turbulent sixties."--Georgia Historical Quarterly
Library Journal
Florida's 1300-mile coastline is both a blessing and a curse; each summer it brings pleasure to millions of beach visitors but trepidation to insurance companies and disaster-preparedness officers. This fascinating and disturbing account of punishing encounters with hurricanes--which hit Florida more frequently than any other state--covers four and a half centuries of Florida history. Barnes (North Carolina's Hurricane History, Univ. of North Carolina, 1995) begins by explaining the meteorology of hurricanes, the development of tracking and forecasting, and the tradition of naming individual storms. The bulk of his narrative, however, details the history and impact of more than 100 major storms. Heavily illustrated, the book bears graphic witness to the havoc wreaked by winds topping 200 miles per hour and storm surges reaching 20 feet above sea level. John M. Williams and Iver W. Duedall's Florida Hurricanes and Tropical Storms (Univ. of Florida, 1997) is similar but considerably less detailed, while Roger A. Pielke Sr.'s Hurricanes: Their Natures and Impacts on Society (Wiley, 1997) is directed toward specialists. Essential for meteorology collections and all Florida libraries; recommended for scholars and general readers nationwide.--Kathleen Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.

Product Details

The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Second Edition
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.33(d)

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The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2007 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8078-5809-7

Chapter One


As old as the oceans themselves, hurricanes are born each year from the heat of the Tropics. They begin as innocent thunderclouds and evolve into massive storms with violent winds and torrential rains. They may live for days or for weeks, and most die off harmlessly over cooler waters. Some track dangerously close to land before veering away just beyond the shoreline. Occasionally these storms make landfall with a violent blast of wind, rain, and tide. Other storm systems may be larger and tornadoes sometimes pack more violent winds, but nothing in our atmosphere can match the broad-scale destructive force of hurricanes. These seasonal cyclones and their counterparts around the globe are the greatest storms on earth, killing more people worldwide than all other storms combined.

They are called hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere, a term probably derived from "Hurukan," the name of the Mayan storm god, and other similar native Caribbean words translated as "evil spirit" or "big wind." In the western Pacific, they are known as typhoons, and in the Indian Ocean, they are called cyclones. These terms all describe the same phenomena-cyclonic storms that form in all tropical oceans except theSouth Atlantic and Southeast Pacific.

As the intense rays of the summer sun warm the ocean's surface, evaporation and conduction transfer enormous amounts of heat and moisture into the atmosphere, fueling the birth of tropical cyclones. Warm vapors rise, cool, and condense, forming billowing clouds, scattered showers, and thunderstorms. Newborn thunderstorms grow and multiply, many produced in passing tropical waves-low-pressure troughs that drift westward through equatorial waters. Some waves become tropical depressions as thunderheads build, pressures drop, and low-level circulation develops. If conditions are favorable, a depression can intensify until sustained winds reach 39 mph, at which time it becomes a tropical storm. Once the tropical storm's rotation becomes well organized, its central pressure falls, and sustained winds reach 74 mph, a hurricane is born.

Satellite images of fledgling tropical systems give meteorologists the opportunity to watch these storms develop over a period of hours and days. Forecasters look for signs of rotation and organized convection in emerging storms, which indicate the potential for strengthening. The earth's spin produces the Coriolis effect, which causes winds within a tropical depression to spiral around the central low pressure. These winds encounter surface friction that causes them to spiral inward, helping to intensify the storm by bringing warm, moist air to recharge the growing thunderstorms. Once the circulation completely surrounds the center, a relatively calm eye sometimes develops, from which massive rainbands spiral outward for many miles. The storm's most intense winds are found at the edge of the eye in the eyewall. It is usually here that the hurricane delivers its greatest destruction.

In order for a tropical storm to develop and intensify, it must encounter minimal vertical shear. Shearing winds, like those produced by upper-level lows, sometimes blow the tops off developing storms, never allowing a convective "chimney" to form. In the absence of strong shear, storms can more readily strengthen. Once a storm becomes a well-developed hurricane, it may cover thousands of square miles as it tracks across the ocean's surface. Whether it maintains its strength and direction or stalls and dissipates depends on the effects of the atmosphere that surrounds it. Rivers of air push and steer the hurricane, while nearby low-pressure troughs and high-pressure domes can either draw or block the storm. High-altitude steering currents and low-level trade winds influence the hurricane's course, and the combination of these forces can produce erratic storm tracks. Some hurricanes have been known to track in a loop (like Hurricane Easy in September 1950). Others appear to wobble, much like a child's top spinning precariously across a table.

As long as they remain over warm water, tropical cyclones can strengthen. To intensify, they need a good supply of fuel-the heat and moisture available in the atmosphere at sea. As they move over relatively cooler waters or over land, they lose their source of energy and begin to weaken. Nevertheless, hurricanes and tropical storms can sometimes track deep inland before fully dissipating. Some, like Opal in 1995 and Ivan in 2004, can cause extensive damage to areas many miles from the coast. In Florida many hurricanes that make landfall on one coast cross the peninsula only to reenter the warm waters on the other side, where they sometimes regain their strength. Like Donna in 1960 and Andrew in 1992, many of Florida's most infamous storms have swept the state from coast to coast before eventually making landfall a second time in another state.

During the long, hot days of late summer, ocean temperatures reach their peak, and tropical storm activity increases. August, September, and October are the prime months for hurricanes in the Atlantic, but the official hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. Hurricanes have been documented in the Atlantic in the months before and after the official season, but the majority of tropical cyclones occur from June through November. The earliest hurricane ever to strike the U.S. coast was Alma, which hit the Florida Panhandle as a minimal hurricane on June 9, 1966. The latest hurricane known to make landfall in the United States, an unnamed storm on November 30, 1925, also struck Florida, near Tampa.

Although Andrew came in August, September is clearly the most dangerous month for tropical cyclones in Florida. Over 60 percent of the major hurricanes to strike the state in the twentieth century occurred during this month, many within the first two weeks. Most of Florida's worst hurricane disasters occurred in September, including the great hurricanes of 1926, 1928, 1935, 1945, and 1947, as well as Donna in 1960, Betsy in 1965, Eloise in 1975, and Ivan in 2004.

Early-season hurricanes that strike Florida most often make landfall on the Gulf coast. In August and September, Cape Verde-type storms (born from African waves near the Cape Verde Islands) form in the eastern Atlantic and track toward the west. These hurricanes are often very severe and have battered Florida's Atlantic coast many times through the years. Hurricanes affecting Florida early or late in the season often emerge from the western Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and can strike either the Gulf or the southeastern coast. During the winter months, severe and damaging storms called nor'easters sometimes brew off Florida's coasts, but these storms are not true hurricanes. They are known to meteorologists as extratropical cyclones, and they lack the warm central air mass and well-defined eye of a hurricane.

Even so, nor'easters have been known to cause major destruction. The Ash Wednesday storm of March 1962 was perhaps the biggest Atlantic extratropical storm of the twentieth century. For three long days, this nor'easter stalled off the Atlantic coast, during a time of high spring tides and full moon, and battered the coastline from Florida to New England. Florida experienced considerable damage, but the storm's worst floods and most concentrated destruction occurred from North Carolina to New York. The Lincoln's Birthday storm of 1973 and the March superstorm of 1993 are two other notable nor'easters of recent years. Residents along Florida's east coast regularly experience nor'easters and other winter storms and sometimes endure coastal flooding and severe beach erosion from them.

Each year, about sixty tropical waves form in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. On average, only about ten reach tropical storm intensity, and only about six become hurricanes. The U.S. coastline will be struck by an average of more than three hurricanes every two years, anywhere from Texas to Maine. Almost 40 percent of all U.S. hurricanes hit Florida. According to the statistical averages, hurricanes battered Florida in about three out of every five years during the twentieth century. But statistics can be misleading in any attempt to determine what to expect in the future. And few hurricane seasons seem average in Florida.


Excerpted from FLORIDA'S HURRICANE HISTORY by JAY BARNES Copyright © 2007 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Praise for the previous edition:
"Rises above mere statistics, using personal accounts and striking pictures to bring the state's countless encounters with tragedy to life. . . . [It is] a compelling look back into the state's relationship with the tropical cyclone and it reminds us of the dangers that loom ahead in the future from these storms.—Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

An important book . . . because it helps to counter the ideology of hurricane denial rooted in the real estate boom of the early part of the twentieth century.—Journal of Southern History

The best and most comprehensive book on hurricane history for Florida I have seen.—Weather Watchers Online

In . . . Florida's Hurricane History, the stormy past of the Sunshine State rises above mere statistics.—Tampa Bay Magazine

Required reading for everyone in Florida, particularly those who might plan to ignore hurricane warnings, these vivid firsthand accounts from many previous disasters should convince everyone to evacuate.—Choice

Absolutely riveting.—Naples Daily News

[A] wealth of information. . . . Highly recommended. —CHOICE

The most comprehensive collection of Florida hurricane photographs ever assembled.—Ft. Lauderdale El Heraldo

A comprehensive and useful history of hurricanes in Florida. . . . The best general history on hurricanes and their impact on the Sunshine state.—Tampa Bay History

Fascinating and disturbing. . . . Heavily illustrated, the book bears graphic witness to the havoc wreaked by winds topping 200 miles per hour and storm surges reaching 20 feet above sea level.—Library Journal




Meet the Author

Jay Barnes is director of development for the North Carolina Aquarium Society. He has worked with the Aquariums since 1980, and he was director of the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for more than twenty years. He is a graduate of N.C. State University's College of Design, and holds a master's degree in advertising from Syracuse University. He is author of several books and articles on hurricanes, including North Carolina's Hurricane History (UNC Press), now in its third edition, Florida's Hurricane History (UNC Press), now in its second edition, and Faces From the Flood: Hurricane Floyd Remembered (UNC Press), co-authored by State Treasurer Richard Moore. Barnes lives in Pine Knoll Shores, N.C.

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