Posted: 1:13 pm Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
By Eliot Kleinberg
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the great “Labor Day Storm” striking the Florida Keys on Sept. 2, 1935, with top sustained winds of at least 160 mph.
The combination of winds and tides caused 408 deaths, primarily among World War I veterans working in the area. Damage in the United States was estimated at $6 million.
Perhaps the most iconic image of the storm was of Henry Flagler’s final achievement, the 23-year-old railroad to Key West, smashed to pieces. With the car becoming the nation’s primary mode of transportation, the railroad never would be rebuilt.
The storm also took a state already reeling from the collapse of the 1920s real estate boom and settled it firmly into the Great Depression, a condition that only a world war was able to relieve.
The 1935 storm’s barometic pressure — the standard by which a storm’s strength is measured — was 26.35, more than an inch lower than Palm Beach County’s catastrophic 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. It’s a low for a landfalling storm in North America that stands today.
It’s lower even than Camille, which flattened Mississippi in 1969 with top winds at landfall of an unbelievable 190 mph but a barometric pressure low of 26.84 inches.
The Labor Day Storm, Camille and 1992′s Andrew are the only storms ever to strike the U.S. mainland at Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Category 5 storms have winds of at least 155 mph and barometric pressure of less than 27.17 inches and normally staid forecasters describe their potential impact as “catastrophic.”
Here’s an interview with Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century, a history of the 1935 storm.