Hurricanes in Northeast Florida

SHAPE OF COASTLINE

Shape of coastline makes us less vulnerable to most hurricanes than south Florida and North Carolina.

Hurricanes traveling westward aim at the Caribbean or the SE US. As the approach south Florida, they usually either hit downstate or turn northward around the western edge of the Bermuda High.

As they curve northward, they either remain at sea or create a serious threat to the Carolinas. For a northward moving hurricane to strike Jacksonville it must pass over land before reaching here, thus they are reduced to tropical storm strength. This is what happened with Frances and Jeanne in 2004.

TROPICAL STORM FORCE HERE

As we learned last year, tropical storm force winds can cause much havoc. Loss of power and falling trees can cause much inconvenience and widespread damage. But these were the “tip of the iceberg” compared to the damage and destruction a full-force hurricane can cause.

HURRICANE HISTORY

Jacksonville’s history has been that of having tropical storms, not hurricanes. True, our tropical storms were hurricane force downstate, but they have been only tropical storm strength when they arrive here.

Examples:

  • September 18, 1928 – The great Palm Beach – Okeechobee hurricane that took 2,000 lives downstate passed just west of our city giving us 48 mph winds.
  • October 19, 1944 – Brought 46 mph winds, had an eye 60 miles long, caused one death by electrocution.
  • August 27, 1949 –  A storm from the Gulf brought wind gusts of 85 mph, blowing out store windows downtown.
  • September 6-7 1950 – Hurricane Easy made a loop over north central Florida, and brought winds of 52 mph to Jacksonville. The hurricane was “lost” as it approached Cedar Key, stalled, drifted southward, then northward over Camp Blanding and Glen St Mary. It dumped all-time record rainfall of 38.9 inches on Yankeetown.
  • October 18, 1950 – Hurricane King, after striking Miami, came up the peninsula, and passed between Jacksonville and Lake City. Jacksonville had wind gusts to 85 mph.
  • September 10-11, 1960 – Hurricane Donna, as strong as Andrew, took a track up central Florida similar to Charlie in 2004. Large live oak trees were downed in St Augustine as the storm headed out to sea at Flagler Beach. Jacksonville’s highest winds were 67 mph; Jacksonville Beach’s 75 mph

HURRICANE DORA

Jacksonville has only had only one full-force hurricane strike our area according to records going back to 1872.

That was Dora in 1964. Dora was not a major hurricane. It crossed the coast as a category 2 strength hurricane. In 1962, we were not as dependent on power as we are today. Many of us were alive when electricity first came to many rural areas. Our grandparents still had oil lanterns and electricity was a newcomer into their lives.

Also, in 1964 Jacksonville did not have the population and widespread development that it has today.  Fortunately the city’s founders established the town 16 miles inland from the coast giving us a buffer of forests between to ocean and the city. Today our beach communities have grown in population and development that can receive damages hundreds of time greater than 1964.

WHAT WE FACE EACH HURRICANE SEASON

We’ve had several close calls with hurricanes stronger than Dora that have passed within 200 miles of our beaches. In 1999 Category 4 Floyd gave us the greatest scare in recent times. Dora was blocked from turning northward by an unusual and persistent blocking high pressure over the middle Atlantic states.

Sadly we can’t count on our past history to keep each year’s storms away from our coast. We must be prepared by knowing what we have to do should one strike here.

Downed power lines will cause extended power outage. Trees will block roads for many days. Ocean and river waters will rise and flood low lying areas. If we have no emergency generators, we will need to store food that needs no refrigeration and have battery-operated radios, TV’s, and flashlights.

WHAT I HAVE TO DO

Board up my windows and prepare my house a few days before the storm.

Leave my family and work with the Channel 4 Storm Team the long hours (12 hours on and 12 off) before the storm, and continuously broadcast reports during the storm and until all danger is past.

I’ll have to sleep on a palette in my office, and eat the uncooked, non-refrigerated food that I store.

We will be operating on emergency power to run our computers and broadcast. And if the storm is a category 3 or stronger hurricane have to evacuate to higher ground.

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