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1926 Miami hurricane

1926 Miami hurricane
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Black and white
Surface weather analysis of the storm over South Florida on September 18
Formed 11 September 1926 (1926-09-11)
Dissipated 22 September 1926 (1926-09-23)
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 150 mph (240 km/h)
Lowest pressure 930 mbar (hPa); 27.46 inHg
Fatalities 372[1]
Damage $78.58 million (1926 USD)
(Costliest U.S. hurricane when adjusted for wealth normalization)
Areas affected Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
Part of the 1926 Atlantic hurricane season

The 1926 Miami hurricane (also known as the Great Miami hurricane)[1] devastated the Greater Miami area and caused extensive damage in the Bahamas and Gulf Coast in September 1926, accruing a US$78.58 million damage toll that remains the costliest in U.S. history when adjusted using inflation, population, and wealth normalization, yielding a cost of nearly US$165 billion. As a result of the destruction in Florida, the hurricane represented an early start to the Great Depression in the aftermath of the state's 1920s land boom.

The tropical cyclone is believed to have formed in the central Atlantic Ocean on September 11.[nb 1] Steadily strengthening as it tracked west-northwestward, the tropical storm reached hurricane intensity the next day. As a result of scattered observations at open sea, however, no ship encountered the storm until September 15, by which time the cyclone had reached major hurricane intensity north of the Virgin Islands. Strengthening continued up until the following day, when the storm reached peak intensity with a strength equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. This intensity was maintained as the storm tracked across the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas to landfall near Miami, Florida on September 18. The hurricane quickly traversed the Florida peninsula before emerging into the Gulf of Mexico where it made two landfalls with weaker intensities on Alabama and Mississippi on September 20 and 21, respectively. Land interaction caused the cyclone to deteriorate and later dissipate on September 22.

Meteorological history

File:1926 Miami hurricane track.png
Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale

Due to the sparseness of available observations in the central Atlantic, the specific origins of the 1926 Miami hurricane remain unclear.[2] However, the tropical cyclone is first listed in HURDAT—the official Atlantic hurricane database—as having begun as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 km/h) roughly halfway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles on September 11. Tracking west-northwestward, gradual intensification is thought to have occurred after tropical cyclogenesis, and the storm reached hurricane intensity on September 12 while still east of the Lesser Antilles.[3] The observation of low barometric pressures and winds suggesting cyclonic rotation at Saint Kitts on the evening of September 14 was the first to suggest that a hurricane had developed.[4] The following day, the S.S. Matura encountered the strengthening tropical cyclone and documented a minimum pressure of 976 mbar (hPa; 28.82 inHg).[2] By 06:00 UTC on September 15, the storm had strengthened further to major hurricane intensity north of the Virgin Islands.[3]

Strengthening continued into September 16 as the hurricane reached a strength equivalent to that of a Category 4 on the modern-day Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. Although no official minimum pressure readings were taken in the area at the time, the tropical cyclone peaked in wind-based intensity at 18:00 UTC on September 16 with sustained winds of 150 mph (240 km/h).[3] With this strength the hurricane passed near the Turks and Caicos Islands, though its intensity at the time was based on the extent of damage there as any measurement device was knocked out by the damaging winds.[2][5] After passing the islands, the hurricane slightly weakened but maintained formidable strength as it accelerated through the southern Bahamas, passing near Nassau on September 17.[3][4] This trajectory brought the storm ashore on the coast of Miami, Florida before 12:00 UTC on September 18 with winds of 145 mph (235 km/h) and a minimum pressure estimated at 930 mbar (hPa; 27.46 inHg).[2] The hurricane weakened over South Florida as a result of land interaction but restrengthened after emerging into the Gulf of Mexico off Punta Rassa, Florida six hours later.[3][4]

The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico allowed for the tropical cyclone to reach a secondary peak intensity with winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) on September 20, equivalent to that of a modern-day high-end Category 3 hurricane. Although the storm had taken a more northwesterly course through the gulf, the hurricane later began paralleling the coast of the Florida Panhandle and thus slowly curved westward.[3] As a result, the major hurricane made its second landfall near Perdido Beach, Alabama at around 22:00 UTC that day with winds of 100 mph (160 km/h). After landfall, the storm quickly weakened and meandered off of Alabama's barrier islands, eventually moving ashore for the last time at September 21 near Gulfport, Mississippi as a tropical storm.[2] The cyclone continued its decay inland, degenerating into a tropical depression the following day before dissipating over Louisiana shortly thereafter.[3]


On September 16, the United States Weather Bureau advised caution to ships tracking in Bahamian waters and the Florida Strait. The first tropical cyclone warning associated with the storm was a northeast storm warning issued on September 17 for the Florida coast from Jupiter Inlet to Key West, Florida. Warnings along the United States Eastern Seaboard eventually stretched as far north as Charleston, South Carolina upon the storm's first landfall. Additional warnings were posted for the United States Gulf Coast on September 19 and covered coastal areas from Apalachicola, Florida to Burrwood, Louisiana. Information on the storm as ascertained by the U.S. Weather Bureau was relayed by various radio and local press services, though the bureau specifically acknowledged the Mobile Register for their efforts in disseminating storm details.[4]


Bahamas and Turks and Caicos

Although no fatalities were reported, the hurricane wrought extensive property damage to Grand Turk Island. Nearly all lighters at port were lost.[6] Due to hampered communication, the extent of damage in the Bahamas was initially unclear.[7]


Costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricanes 1900–2010
Total estimated property damage, adjusted for wealth normalization[8][9]
Rank Hurricane Season Cost (2010 USD)
1 "Miami" 1926 $164.8 billion
2 Katrina 2005 $113.4 billion
3 "Galveston" 1900 $104.3 billion
4 "Galveston" 1915 $ 71.3 billion
5 Andrew 1992 $ 58.5 billion
6 "New England" 1938 $ 41.1 billion
7 "Cuba–Florida" 1944 $ 40.6 billion
8 "Okeechobee" 1928 $ 35.2 billion
9 Ike 2008 $ 29.5 billion
10 Donna 1960 $ 28.1 billion
Main article: List of costliest Atlantic hurricanes

The 1926 hurricane is known primarily for its impacts and lasting aftermath in South Florida, particularly in the Miami area. Effects were concentrated around Florida's southeastern coast and south-central Florida. Damage figures from the storm in the state alone reached US$75 million and accounted for most of the damage that the tropical cyclone produced.[2] Although the official number of fatalities would later be revised downward,[1] initial estimates suggested that the death toll would likely be over 1,000 in Miami alone with an additional 2,000 injured. Nonetheless, the grave number of casualties forced resorts to serve as temporary morgues and hospitals. Homes and office buildings were used to serve as refugee camps for the approximately 38,000 people displaced by the hurricane.[10]

The hurricane's high storm surge swept into Miami and Miami Beach, flooding city streets with knee-deep water. Yachts and large vessels were carried by the intense wind and waves onto shore.[10] The MacArthur Causeway connecting Miami and Miami Beach was submerged under Script error: No such module "convert". of water, and communication between the two locales as well as the rest of the United States was cut after all local telecommunications and power lines were blown down.[7] Due to their susceptibility to strong winds, most wooden buildings in Miami were either blown down or unroofed. Concrete and steel buildings were warped at their bases.[10] While skyscrapers mostly sustained minor damage, the 18-story Meyer-Kiser Building bore considerable damage.[11] Many of the injuries in the city were due to ballistic fragments of broken roofing including iron sheeting. The surrounding citrus crop was greatly impacted by the floodwater as half of the region's citrus-bearing trees were lost. Clewiston was entirely inundated by the hurricane's storm surge, and numerous bodies were reportedly awash along the road connecting the city with Miami. Further inland, Moore Haven was submerged under Script error: No such module "convert". of water after the waters of Lake Okeechobee spilled over dikes. A nearby drainage dam was destroyed, causing additional flooding of the countryside. Most of the city's buildings were swept off of their original foundations.[10]

The Fulford–Miami Speedway in North Miami Beach was destroyed by the storm.[12] The toll for the storm was $100 million ($1.33 billion 2016 USD). It is estimated that if an identical storm hit in the year 2005, with modern development and prices, the storm would have caused $140–157 billion in damage.[8][13]

The Gulf coast of the Florida peninsula saw comparatively less damage compared to Greater Miami but still suffered significant impacts. In Fort Myers, citrus crops sustained some damage and public utilities were put out of commission. Strong winds uprooted trees in St. Petersburg while heavy rainfall caused flooding in the outlying districts of nearby Tampa.[10] Coastal regions between Mobile and Pensacola, Florida also suffered heavy damage from wind, rain, and storm surge. Rainfall maximized at Bay Minette, Alabama where Script error: No such module "convert". fell.[14] According to the Red Cross there were 373 fatalities. Other estimates vary, since there were a large number of people listed as "missing". Between 25,000 and 50,000 people were left homeless, mostly in the Miami area.


The disarray in Miami following the hurricane's passage led a breakout of looting in the city's African American districts that resulted in seven arrests. This unrest prompted the declaration of martial law with the swearing-in of 300 special policemen for voluntary duty. Similarly, 200 policemen were placed on duty in Hollywood, Florida. After a survey indicated that the available food and water supplies would only last 30 days, hoarding was banned.[10] Soup kitchens were set up in Miami's business district in order to serve food to the recently displaced and as a source for clean drinking water that was contaminated in other areas. The first aid arriving from outside the impacted areas was a relief train guarded by state militiamen that carted medical staff, medicine, potable water, and other relief supplies into Miami immediately following the storm's passage.[15] Afterwards, then-U.S. president Calvin Coolidge placed the United States Army and Coast Guard on standby should relief efforts necessitate their presence in Florida and the Bahamas.[16] The Red Cross offered its facilities and the Pullman Company offered its resources for use in relief efforts. The National Guard of the United States dispatched several companies of guardsmen to disaster areas following urgent appeals from then-Florida governor John W. Martin.[10] In response to the widespread destruction of buildings on Miami Beach, John J. Farrey was appointed chief building, plumbing and electrical inspector. He initiated and enforced the first building code in the United States, which more than 5000 US cities duplicated.[17]

The University of Miami, located in Coral Gables, had been founded in 1925 and opened its doors for the first time just days after the hurricane passed. The university's athletic teams were nicknamed the Hurricanes in memory of this catastrophe. The school's mascot is Sebastian, an ibis. The ibis is a small white bird that can be seen around south Florida and especially on the UM campus. An ibis was selected to represent the Hurricanes because of folklore in which it is typically the last bird to leave before a hurricane strikes and the first to return once it's gone.[18]

Several events, including the sinking of a ship in the Miami harbor, and a Florida East Coast railway embargo before the storm that weakened the boom. However, the storm is considered the final blow to end the Florida land boom of the 1920s. Thousands of newcomers to Florida left the state and cleared their bank accounts, leaving many banks to the brink of bankruptcy.[19]:295 As a result, the Great Depression of 1929 did not make a great impact to Florida unlike the rest of the country.[19]:298 It took until the 1940s before Miami recovered economic wise.[19]:324

File:1926 Miami Hurricane damage.jpg
Panoramic view of Miami after the hurricane, wryly titled "Miami's New Drydock" ; September 18, 1926.

See also

  • Hurricane Andrew – caused unprecedented destruction in Greater Miami before striking Louisiana
  • 1947 Fort Lauderdale hurricane – intense hurricane whose effects were lessened in southern Florida thanks to improved warning systems
  • 1945 Homestead hurricane  – tracked across the Bahamas before curving into Florida and causing extensive damage


  1. For consistency, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is used for all references of time as the cyclone existed in multiple time zones throughout its existence.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Blake, Eric S.; Gibney, Ethan J. (August 2011). The Deadliest, Costliest, And Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 To 2010 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts) (PDF) (United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum). Miami, Florida and Asheville, North Carolina: National Hurricane Center. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Landsea, Chris et al. (April 2014). "Documentation of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones Changes in HURDAT". Miami, Florida: Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  3. National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division (May 7, 2015). "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Mitchell, Charles L. (October 1926). Henry, Alfred J.; Varney, Burton M., eds. "The West Indian Hurricane Of September 14–22, 1926" (PDF). Monthly Weather Review (American Meteorological Society) 54 (10): 409–414. Bibcode:1926MWRv...54..409M. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1926)54<409:TWIHOS>2.0.CO;2. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  5. Goodwin, George (October 1926). "The Hurricane At Turks Island, September 16, 1926" (PDF). Monthly Weather Review (Turks Island, Turks and Caicos Islands: American Meteorological Society) 54 (10): 416–417. Bibcode:1926MWRv...54..416G. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1926)54<416b:THATIS>2.0.CO;2. Retrieved January 1, 2015. 
  6. "Storm Does Enormous Damage". The Index-Journal 7 (224) (Greenwood, South Carolina). Associated Press. September 17, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Tropical Hurricane Sweeps Southern Part Of Country". Lancaster Eagle-Gazette 36 (137) (Lancaster, Ohio). Associated Press. September 18, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  8. 8.0 8.1 Pielke, Roger A., Jr. et al. (2008). "Normalized Hurricane Damage in the United States: 1900–2005" (PDF). Natural Hazards Review 9 (1): 29–42. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1527-6988(2008)9:1(29). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 June 2013. 
  9. Blake, Eric S.; Landsea, Christopher W.; Gibney, Ethan J. (2011). "The Deadliest, Costliest, and the most intense United States Tropical Cyclones from 1851 to 2010 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts)" (PDF). NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS NHC-6. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 "500 Reported Killed In The City Of Miami". Portsmouth Daily Times. EXTRA (Portsmouth, Ohio). Associated Press. September 20, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  11. "Highlights of the Storm". Portsmouth Daily Times. EXTRA (Portsmouth, Ohio). Associated Press. September 20, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  12. "Fulford-Miami Speedway - Post Hurricane". Getty Images. 1927-01-11. Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  13. Malmstadt, Jill; Scheitlin, Kelsey; Elsner, James (2009). "Florida Hurricanes and Damage Costs". Southeastern Geographer 49 (2): 108–131. doi:10.1353/sgo.0.0045.  edit
  14. United States Corp of Engineers (1945). Storm Total Rainfall In The United States. War Department. p. SA 4–23. 
  15. "Bread Lines Appear In Miami; A Relief Train Rushed There". Portsmouth Daily Times. EXTRA (Portsmouth, Ohio). Associated Press. September 20, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  16. "Nation To Rush Aid". Portsmouth Daily Times. EXTRA (Portsmouth, Ohio). United Press. September 20, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved January 1, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  17. Great Floridians 2000 Project
  18. "Traditions :: University of Miami". Archived from the original on 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Gannon, Michael (2012). The New History of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-1415-9. 

External links