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The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926

page 22 of Pictorial History - Hurricane Banner

pg 22. A pictorial history of the Florida hurricane, September 18, 1926. City, County, and Regional Histories E-Book Collection

Impact on Florida

Date of landfall:           September 20, 1926

Lives lost (FL):          220

Category/wind speed:   4/120mph

Cost of damages:      $30-100 million

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 was one of the most destructive hurricanes in Florida’s history, and the second costliest in US history.  It was instrumental in bringing an end to the Florida Land Boom of the 20s (Wikipedia). 

No storm of comparable magnitude had been witnessed prior to 1926, at least in the memories of Floridians recording it at the time.  Florida’s Great Hurricane, later known as the Great Miami Hurricane, occurred before the current naming convention and before the current method of categorization.  The National Hurricane Center has ranked the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane as a category 4 at landfall (Blake & Landsea, 2010).  As it made its way up the western coast of the state, it fell to a category 3, based on the reported wind speeds of 120 mph (Associated Press, 1926; National Hurricane Center Wind Scale).

The Tampa Times run of the Associated Press article reported on Monday September 20, 1926 that, after raking over Miami and Lake Okechobee the hurricane continued north, cutting utilities in Sarasota, uprooting trees in St. Petersburg and flooding Tampa. The state and the nation both mobilized to help those affected; supply trucks were mobilized in Jacksonville and a relief train was sent from Chicago.  

Reports of the deaths and damages varied greatly, with some reports claiming only 150 while others estimated 500.  Joe Hugh Reese’s account of the storm:  Florida’s great hurricane in the City, County, and Regional Histories E-Book Collection, gives a more nuanced look at the aftermath recording 220 dead, 6328 injured and between 30 to 100 million in damages.  In retrospect, we now know that closer to 372 lives were lost during the hurricane and that damages, adjusted for inflation, reached $164,839 (Blake & Landsea, 2010). 

49 Floridas Great Hurricane

pg 49.  Florida’s great hurricane. City, County, and Regional Histories E-Book Collection.

Though named for Miami, the effects of the storm were most felt in Moorehaven and other small communities on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, where the hurricane brought the waters of the lakes through people’s homes.  Many of the residents affected were unprepared and un-acquainted with hurricanes and ventured out during the lull caused by the passing eye, only to be caught unprepared when the winds began again (Reese, 1926). 

'In spite of the admirable service of the Weather Bureau, there were those who received no warning and had no means of being advised of the approaching storm" --Joe Hugh Reese, Florida’s Great Hurricane 

The firsthand accounts of Joe Hugh Reese, L.F. Reardon, L.L. Tyler, and Harry H. Hamm also document the tenacity of South Florida residents who united to help each while waiting for shipments of supplies and much needed drinking water.  Rebuilding began immediately.    

"although such a hurricane was never known before and there was slight probability of recurrence, the determination to build better than before was apparent throughout the storm area"  -L.L. Tyler, A Pictorial History of the Florida Hurricane 

Misinformation and rumor was proliferated to feed the nation’s hunger for information on the Florida hurricane.  The media coverage may have inspired some disaster tourism as well.  When another hurricane threatened the Miami coastline a month later, at least one thrill seeker drove down to see it, hoping it would be as big a show (“Rotarian Drives Here to Watch Hurricane, 1926). 

The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926