New residents moved to Miami, Florida, in the 1920s. The newcomers knew little about the hurricane dangers to a beach-side city. Many were drawn to Miami by a real-estate boom that collapsed. Citizens lost their homes as businesses closed their doors.
A Weather Bureau Office had been established in Miami under the leadership of Richard Gray since 1911.
Ships first reported a storm in the central tropical Atlantic to the Weather Bureau on September 11, 1926. During this time period, storm warnings came from Washington DC. Storm warnings—one step below hurricane—were issued at noon on September 17th.
Gray raised hurricane warnings at 11 pm that night. Few people owned a radio to hear the broadcasted message. Forceful winds drove ocean waves onto the shore. A seven-year-old girl remembered seeing the ocean’s waves in her backyard.
The sixty-mile wide hurricane came ashore at 2 am and lashed at the city of Miami until 6 am. Folks, thinking that the storm had passed, came out of their homes to inspect the damage. Some staying on Miami Beach and barrier islands packed up their cars and crossed bridges to the mainland.
Gray, horrified, realized new residents didn’t understand they were in the eye of the storm. He ran onto the crowded streets, shouting warnings that the worst was yet to come.
The lull lasted only about 35 minutes. Many of the approximately 100 Miami victims, killed by flying debris or drowning, were those who came outside in the eye.
Foster Stearns witnessed waves wash over the new Venetian Causeway. The ocean washed over a car speeding back to the mainland. Instantly the car and its passengers were lost.
The hurricane swept inland to Lake Okeechobee, causing a levee to give way near Moore Haven, a town of 900 on the lake’s shore. The actual number of drowning victims in Moore Haven is unknown, though it may be as many as 300. The town was under water for 8 weeks.
The U.S. Weather Bureau in Miami described the hurricane as “probably the most destructive hurricane to strike the United States.”
-Sandra Merville Hart
Cribb, Betsy and Phillips, Lauren. “10 Most Disastrous Hurricanes in U.S. History, Coastal Living, 2018/01/07
“Great Miami Hurricane of 1926,” National Weather Service, 2018/01/07 https://www.weather.gov/mfl/miami_hurricane.
McIver, Stuart. “1926 Miami: The Blow that Broke the Boom,” Sun-Sentinel, 2018/01/07 http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/sfl-1926-hurricane-story.html.