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Florida Keys Hurricane 1935

Tropical Cyclone

The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was a compact intense tropical cyclone (TC) that passed over the central Florida Keys on the 2nd of September in 1935 (Labor Day that year), before tropical cyclones were given names. It had very low atmospheric pressure in the eye (center) of the storm, and very high wind velocities surrounding the eye.

An evacuation train was late, and the storm surge killed hundreds of people who were waiting to be evacuated, including World War I verterans at road-building work camps. The railroad could not afford to fix the resulting storm damage, went bankrupt, and was sold to the state to be converted into the road highway across the Keys.

Damage of the storm was amplified by poorly designed transportation infrastructure that persists today and will amplify damage of future storms.

“One of the best historical clues as to how tidal prism restriction can cause catastrophic flooding can be obtained from a detailed study of the ‘Labor Day’ hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.”
Nicholas K. Coch, “Anthropogenic Amplification of Storm Surge Damage in the 1935 ‘Labor Day’ Hurricane”, in C.W. Finkl (ed.), Coastal Hazards, 2013.

Figure 1:  Relative storm sizes and shapes at landfall of three intense tropical cyclones. For comparison, storm track directions are rotated to point upward. Dashed lines for Gilbert show extent of that storm at second landfall. [NOAA]

The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 tracked toward the United States north of Cuba, turned northward, bisecting the Florida Keys, crossed into the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), northern Florida and Atlantic US states, then back out to the Atlantic Ocean, becoming extratropical near Greenland.

Figure 2:  Storm track of Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

Figure 3:  Storm track of Labor Day Hurricane 1935, as reported then.

This storm (ranked Category 5+), and Hurricane Donna in 1960 (ranked Category 4), are the last major tropical cyclones with eye of the storm to pass over the Central Keys. In the timescale of hurricanes, that was not very long ago, and more storms like those are likely in the future.

“Although [high energy events] may be catastrophic in terms of a man’s longest period of observation, his lifetime, they are nevertheless only commonplace events in terms of geologic time.”
Ball, Shinn, Stockman, “The Geologic Effects of Hurricane Donna in South Florida”, The Journal of Geology, Sept. 1967

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Florida Keys Hurricane 1935
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