A storm should always be taken seriously — just ask the residents of Galveston, Texas, or Okeechobee, Florida. While the national imagination is fickle and forgetful, there will always be folks in these communities who keep tabs on our most dangerous weather events. They recognize the beauty and majesty of our natural world as the double-edged sword it truly is, and next time, they’ll be ready. How much do you know about the costly storms of our past?
Hurricane of 1938
A Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, the 1938 hurricane did major damage on the east coast, particularly to coastal areas of New York and southern New England. It became a tropical storm as it formed in the Atlantic, but was soon upgraded to a hurricane as it passed Puerto Rico in September of 1938. Due to its high storm surge and incredible wind gusts, the hurricane wrought carnage on a massive scale, with $306 million in property destruction and 256 people killed.
Lake Okeechobee Hurricane
After hitting Puerto Rico hard, this Category 5 hurricane made landfall in West Palm Beach and devastated the Okeechobee area in 1928. As a result of storm surge, the lake overflowed, causing flooding in which thousands of people drowned (the modern estimate approaches 3,000). Afterwards, the Army Corps of Engineers designed an anti-flooding waterway implementation plan incorporating gates and levees. The project was named the Herbert Hoover Dike after then-President Hoover who visited during construction.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Miami-Dade County, and shortly became the third most damaging tropical cyclone in American history. 160,000 Dade County residents became temporarily homeless as a result of the hurricane, and 1.4 million people lost electricity. The Everglades and Biscayne National Parks were not spared: it’s estimated that 70,000 acres of mangroves were severely damaged or completely knocked down. At the time, it was the strongest storm to hit the state of Florida in 30 years.
Though not well-remembered in the popular conscious, Camille caused more than 200 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. In its wake, the 1969 storm was called the greatest catastrophe ever to strike the United States and perhaps the most significant economic weather event in history. The exact wind speeds in Camille will never be known, as all wind-measuring instruments near the core of the storm were destroyed. 140 people died in Camille’s Gulf Coast peak, and another 113 residents of Appalachian mountain communities died from flash flooding resulting from the storm’s remnants.
The big one: the deadliest storm in U.S. history. At the time of the 1900 hurricane, Galveston, Texas was filled with vacationers. The U.S. Weather Bureau issued warnings to alert citizens and urge them to evacuate — these warnings were largely ignored, as sophisticated weather analysis didn’t exist, and confidence in accurate reporting was low. A 15-foot storm surge flooded the city, and between 8,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives.
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