A History of Hurricanes


Sitting in my electricity-less condominium in the wake of Hurricane Irma, I began composing this post in a manner now foreign and unfamiliar: without the use of my laptop. It is hard to remember the last time I took up pen and paper to compose anything longer than a greeting-card note. But having been temporarily deprived—or perhaps blessed—with the loss of electricity, I have had the opportunity to chat more with family and neighbors, hone my domino and card-playing skills, and pick up and read an actual book—at least during daylight hours. It was also a chance to catch up on sleep (since there was little else to do in the sweltering 90-degree heat) and to enjoy the silence only occasionally broken by the raucous cries of flocks of wild conures.


Photographed by author

It is almost impossible to talk about a hurricane without making comparisons to other storms. Given that Irma was the largest-recorded hurricane ever produced in the Atlantic Ocean, and considering the damage it wrought in the Caribbean, the consensus here in Florida is that despite the downed trees and power lines, and the inconvenience of living temporarily without air conditioning and refrigerators, things could have been much, much worse.


Photographed by author

Such sentiments, of course, ring hollow to those South Floridians who have lost loved ones to the storm, or to the thousands of persons whose homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged in the Florida Keys, Marco Island, Ft. Myers, Naples, and as far north as Tampa and Jacksonville. But as all Floridians know (or should know), we live in a region whose past, present, and future has and will always be shaped by hurricanes and tropical storms.


Photographed by Andrea Melendez/The News-Press

I had been living in Florida for about a year when Andrew, a category 5 hurricane, buzzed across the state like a lawnmower in August 1992, completely destroying more than 60,000 homes and damaging more than 124,000 others in Florida City, Homestead, and Cutler Ridge, leaving 250,000 residents homeless. Officially, 38 deaths were attributed to Andrew in Dade County, though those figures may not have included Mexican migrant workers living in trailers in the Everglades Labor Camp when the storm struck.

Courtesy of Sun-Sentinel.com

Courtesy of Sun-Sentinel.com

A major storm striking Miami Beach in 1926 also caused incredible destruction, but far greater loss of life, as residents of the young and relatively small community had relatively little warning and less experience with hurricanes. Believing that the storm had passed, many storm-battered residents attempted to flee across the causeway to the mainland as the eye passed over the island. Hundreds of lives were lost and bodies were never recovered during that storm.

August 201594175

 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Washington Storage Company Archive

As Floridians take stock of the damages as they take down storm shutters, and work crews clear away downed tree limbs and restore power lines, we inevitably draw comparisons not only to past storms in Florida like Wilma and Matthew, but to storms that raged and ravaged our neighbors in other states. Our thoughts go out to those Houston residents still reeling from the aftermath of Harvey’s floodwaters, and our Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean neighbors dealing with Hurricane Irma’s aftermath and now Maria’s winds and waves.

Courtesy of About-Magazine

Courtesy of About-Magazine

In this new era in which we endure hurricanes of increasing intensity, it is important to recognize that those of us living on the coast are all subject to potentially catastrophic storms and need to remain vigilant and prepared. “Superstorm” Sandy (2012) affected the entire eastern seaboard, making landfall and causing major damage in New Jersey and New York, and Gert (2017) brought unprecedented hurricane-force winds to Northern Ireland.


Damage from Superstorm Sandy, courtesy of http://newshour-tc.pbs.org

On September 21, 1938, a category 3 hurricane struck Long Island and Southern New England, bringing heavy rains and a storm surge that flooded coastal communities and destroyed thousands of homes, farms, cottages, bridges, railway lines, 3,300 boats, and 20,000 miles of power and telephone lines.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Seven hundred souls were lost to the storm, and 63,000 people left homeless.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership, the federal government deployed the armed forces and Red Cross nurses to help in disaster recovery, but also sent out thousands of WPA workers to help with emergency clean-up efforts.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

WPA photographers were on hand to document the devastation, and Federal Writers Project workers in New England were hired to produce a factual and pictorial record of the worst disaster to strike New England in the twentieth century.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The book that they published likely established “a new speed record in book publishing.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Today, of course, television, digital photography and video, twitter, and internet sharing allow us to see instantaneously the destruction wrought by hurricanes like Maria, battering our Caribbean neighbors even as I write these lines.


Courtesy of gzps/instagram

~ by "The Chief" on September 20, 2017.

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