And yes, they are related.
For the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the Hurricane of 1926 in Miami and how it relates to a global pandemic.
The Hurricane of 1926 made landfall in Florida just before midnight on September 17, 1926. Most of the people in southeast Florida were new to the area (thanks, land boom!) and thus had never endured a hurricane but they hunkered down in their Miami homes as the first bands of the storm blew in from the Atlantic.
And then the eye passed over, and all was calm. Anxious to get out of their houses (if you’ve ever ridden out a hurricane you know the feeling), everyone went outside and checked on their neighbors and started clearing debris.
U.S. National Weather Service Forecaster Richard Gray kept telling people that it wasn’t safe yet, to go inside, that the storm wasn’t over. But the people didn’t listen. The sky had cleared and the winds had all but come to a stop. Plus, they had work to do. They had destruction all around them, downed trees and construction debris everywhere (Miami and surrounding areas had quite a bit of construction happening at this time, again, yay, land boom.)
It must have felt vitally important to those folks that they do something. The storm had all but torn away all semblance of their normal lives, and they likely wanted to get back to normal as quickly as possible. How foolish was Gray, they must have thought, not to see that the storm had cleared. I have no proof of this, but I’m fairly certain at least one person probably suggested Gray was perpetrating a hoax to help get more money for National Weather Service funding come federal budget time.
And so they left their homes and started clearing debris.
But after the eye comes, as every Floridian knows, the back side of the storm. And the back side of the storm is the worst part. When the second wave washed across Southeast Florida (literally; there was a 10-foot storm surge,) the people outside didn’t have time to seek adequate shelter. Gray had warned them, but there was no other warning before the winds picked up again and started blowing around all those downed trees and lumber from the first part of the hurricane. After the eye passed the and hurricane’s second half started, storm winds hurled those trees and lumber around at speeds of 155 MPH.
The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 killed almost 400 people and injured more than 6,000 others. Damages totaled what would be, in today’s dollars, $164 billion. The storm damage propelled Florida into the Great Depression three years ahead of the rest of the country.
The Miami Hurricane didn’t only damage south Florida, however — it continued on to Pensacola, where it struck Florida again and raged for 20 hours on Sept. 20, destroying pretty much every wharf, building and boat in the city. After that, it finally made landfall a third time in Mobile, Alabama.
What gets me about this story is simple: They were warned. They were warned and they went outside anyway.
Smart Floridians know that the storm isn’t over just because the wind has stopped. Do with this story what you will, but me? I’m with Forecaster Gray, and I intend to ride out the rest of this storm in my house.