The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926

In 2006, Hurricaneville commemorated the anniversaries of a number of storms including: Hurricane Bob (1991), Hurricane Belle (1976), Hurricane Bertha (1996), Hurricane Fran (1996), and the Great Hurricane of 1821. Add to the list another legendary storm from long ago, the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926.

Storm Facts: The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 formed late in the day on September 11, 1926. It is among the top fifty all-time storms according to barometric pressure. It ranks below such recent storms as Hurricane Michelle (2001) and Hurricane Isidore (2002) while ranking ahead of such storms as Hurricane Hazel (1954) and Hurricane Frances (2004).

According to the Hurricaneville Info Center database, the 1926 hurricane that struck Miami was a Category Four Hurricane that lasted some 12 days in the Atlantic. When it impacted Miami, the hurricane had winds of 115 knots or over 130 mph. According to Kerry Emanuel’s book, Divine Wind, the storm brought winds as high as 128 mph as well as an eight to fifteen-foot storm surge to Miami Beach.

The 1926 Atlantic Hurricane Season started off kind of slow. The first storm of the season didn’t begin to swirl up until July 22nd of that year. The Miami hurricane was the sixth storm that season, which would make it the “F” storm in today’s world.

The storm originated some several hundred miles to the east of the Lesser Antilles and tracked Northwestward. It stayed to the north of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as of September 16th and impacted South Florida on the 18th. 

Hurricane warnings weren’t issued until very late on the 17th so many were caught by surprise when the storm slammed ashore during the early morning hours of the 18th. One of the memorable events surrounding this storm was the fact that when the eye moved over the city, many came outside to assess what happened. Unaware that the second half of the storm was coming, many were killed despite warnings from city officials to get back inside.

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Miami and America in 1926

The Miami Hurricane came at the worst possible time for the city. The city of Miami, which was incorporated back in 1896 after Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway down there, had been experiencing a boom.

At the time of the storm, Miami’s population stood at around 300,000. In the period between 1920 and 1923, the population of Miami itself had doubled. Two years later in 1925, approximately $60 million dollars worth of buildings in the form of homes and businesses were constructed.

However, by the time the storm hit, the city’s booming economy had gone bust. Like many who have decided to make Florida home in the past several decades, residents came to South Florida in droves to enjoy the warm climate and sunny beaches.

Similar to the scenario that unfolded prior to Hurricane Andrew, these new residents were unfamiliar with hurricanes and not prepared for their effects. This lack of knowledge became self-evident when the hurricane’s eye passed over and residents went outside to see what had happened not knowing that there was more to come.

The 1926 hurricane that struck Miami was during a time of excess in the United States. It was the roaring twenties. A time of prohibition, speakeasies, flapper girls, and jazz. Baseball was in the midst of its golden era with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig leading the New York Yankees.

Ruth would eventually set the all-time mark for home runs with 60 in 1927, which stood for 34 seasons until the Yankees’ Roger Maris broke the mark with 61 back in 1961. There were other sports heroes too such as the famous boxer Jack Dempsey.

It was a time when you could find a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot. Stocks were being bought on margin, which fed the excesses. But, as you know, too much of a good thing usually turns sour, and it did with the stock market crash of October 1929. Perhaps, the real estate bubble in Miami prior to the hurricane was a harbinger of what would become the Great Depression.

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The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926: Impact

Looking at the impact of the storm, the death toll from this hurricane was rather high. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm is the 76th deadliest storm on record with approximately 350 deaths.

It also left around $150 million dollars in damage, which would be equivalent to $1.7 billion in today’s money. If a similar storm would hit the Miami area today, it would leave behind at least $87 billion in damage according to a recent survey.

Keep in mind, this survey was taken before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. South Florida has seen its share of storms in recent years with CharleyFrances, and Jeanne in 2004 as well as Andrew in 1992. Thankfully, none of these systems struck Miami directly.

Meanwhile, back in 2005, Katrina and Rita made their first stops in South Florida on the way to their disastrous destinations along the United States Gulf Coast, but they were relatively fledgling hurricanes during their time over South Florida and the Florida Keys.

In all, the Metro Miami-Dade area has been hit by a tropical storm or hurricane some 30 times since 1851 (at least coming within a degree of 25.5 North and 80.2 West). Twenty-one of those times, it has been a storm of at least minimal hurricane intensity, and five have been major hurricanes including the 1906 hurricane, 1926 hurricane, 1941 hurricane, 1945 hurricane, and Hurricane Betsy (1965).

Other storms to affect the Miami area directly were Hurricane King (1950), Hurricane Inez (1966), and Hurricane Katrina (2005). Today, the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas remain among the most vulnerable locations to a major hurricane along the East Coast of the United States.

In October 2005, the Gold Coast area of Florida including Fort Lauderdale was hit hard by Hurricane Wilma, a storm that was at one point, the strongest storm on record. It ended up being the worst hurricane to hit that part of Florida in fifty-five years.

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