While Florida is acclaimed for its sunny beaches and warm weather, it is also infamous for the more disastrous side of its climate. And few weather events are as disastrous as hurricanes.
Many Floridians have memories of staying home from school, eating canned food during power outages, the passing calmness in the eye of the hurricane, and joining hands with neighbors to pick up the debris when the storm had finally passed.
Hurricanes are so ingrained into the minds of Floridians that we even have a football team named after them. While hurricanes have always been a part of Florida’s history, data only started being collected in 1851 when the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was formed. Since the founding of the research, there have been an estimated 97 hurricanes to hit Florida, meaning roughly 40% of all hurricanes formed around the world have hit Florida.
One little known hurricane fact is that Spain’s first attempt to colonize Florida was in fact foiled by a hurricane. In 1559, Spain attempted to create a settlement in the Pensacola Bay area when a hurricane destroyed their infrastructure and sunk their ships. 1,500 Spanish settlers were lost.
During the 1920’s, Miami was reaping the economic rewards of a land boom, as the population and wealth of the city expanded rapidly. But when the hurricane of 1926 hit, Miami’s boom came to an abrupt halt. Considered the “Great hurricane,” it decimated the Miami area, causing the loss of up to 650 lives as well as intense property damage in excess of 100 million dollars. The population increase began to decline, causing long term economic harm.
Even more destructive was the deadly Okeechobee hurricane of 1928.The storm moved inward into the state and flooded Lake Okeechobee. Similar to the way that Hurricane Katrina played out, the dikes broke and water flooded the towns surrounding the lake. Almost 2,000 people were killed.
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was the third most powerful cyclone in history. The storm was so powerful that a woman was blown over 40 miles from an island in the Keys to Cape Sable. When the coastguard found her, she was still holding onto her child. Tragically, both perished. The Keys were hit the hardest by this storm and nearly all structures and buildings were destroyed by the category 5 hurricane. An estimated 400 people died. Many of them were people working on the railroad connecting the Keys to the mainland. The storm decimated the progress that had been made on the railroad and in the city itself.
Any Floridian who was alive during 1992 most likely has a story to tell about Hurricane Andrew. While the hurricane primarily affected only four counties, it managed to do almost 25 Billion dollars in damage and 44 deaths in South Florida. The total damage done to the state is estimated at 34 billion dollars. People described the storm’s winds as the sound of a freight train coming straight towards them. Windows were popped like bubbles, houses were flattened down to the foundations. Once the dust settled, South Florida looked as if a bomb had been dropped on it. For 14 years it reigned as the costliest hurricane in history, until Katrina hit New Orleans.
Hurricane Irma is the latest Category 5 Hurricane of note. In 2017, Irma slammed into Florida with winds up to 145 miles per hour, knocking down power lines and even entire houses. The hurricane left 73% of the state without power. Trees that had stood for over a century were toppled by the storm. On ranches throughout the state, feet of standing water stretched as far as the eye could see. Many rivers and lakes flooded due to the amount of rain deposited by the storm. Overall, it is estimated that over 50 Billion dollars of damage was caused in the state of Florida.
Hurricane Michael struck in 2018, destroying the property of many Floridians. The economic impact of hurricanes can be far-reaching and unpredictable. According to the Lay of The Land Market Report, “timber prices impacted by Hurricane Michael dropped to approximately one-half the pre-storm levels as the glut of salvage wood hit the market. These prices (were) for those timberland owners who (were) fortunate enough to get their wood into the mills as there (was) much more salvage wood available than the mills (could) process.” Many other industries and agricultural businesses were affected by Hurricane Michael as well. While Hurricane damage is most often thought of as trees and buildings being blown over, the damage may present differently for Florida landowners in the agriculture industry.
Clearly, hurricanes are a serious matter and will continue to affect the state of Florida as well as it’s real estate market. So as we approach this year’s hurricane season, please make sure to take all the necessary precautions recommended by the state.
Check out these other articles on Florida History, and watch the video based on this article below:
Here are some resources detailing important steps to take before and after a Hurricane: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1494007144395-b0e215ae1ba6ac1b556f084e190e5862/FEMA_2017_Hurricane_HTP_FINAL.pdf