“The 3:30 AM advisory, September 2 (Labor Day), predicted the disturbance “will probably pass through the Florida Straits Monday” and cautioned “against high tides and gales Florida Keys and ships in path.”‘
Little did they know they were going to see one of the most devastating hurricanes on record pass through just a few hours later…

The Labor Day Hurricane


Hurricane Donna

There have been a lot of devastating hurricanes in history and it’s just a fact of live for those that live on the coast of our tropical or even just semi-tropical waters. Our warning systems have improved greatly as time has passed though and back in 1935, a small compact hurricane barreled through the Atlantic Ocean towards the Florida Keys. Lack of warning systems made it difficult to track the compact storm, and impossible to know the strength. Back in those days information about Hurricanes and Tropical Storms were collected by ships and planes at sea. Obviously that is not a good way to track mother nature’s fury. The weather has always been close to unpredictable, and without satellite radar, we simply had no idea the exact size of any storm or where exactly it was.

Timing Is Everything

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean is generally June through November. It’s not something you can simply avoid by not traveling to an area during that time because that’s a wide margin of time. On top of the fact that these storms actually can form any time of year, though it is rare for them to do so. September 2nd however is prime time for Tropical Cyclones and this one formed over the extremely warm waters of the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf-stream.

Pure PowerHurricane Strength

The power of this compact storm was literally off the charts at the time. It would be on the charts today but would still be considered one of the strongest storms in recorded history. Wind gauges were in their early forms then but could still record wind up to around 200 Mph. This hurricane at various points managed to bust those wind gauges, making it a certain Category Five on the Hurricane Scale, the strongest a storm can be rated at.

Destruction Reigns

Hurricane DamageThe pure power brought pure destruction through the Mid Florida Keys from  Tavernier to Marathon. The lack of warning left a great deal of residents and workers from the mainland stranded in the storm’s path. A train was sent to evacuate the people in the storm’s path just a little too late, and the train itself was almost completely washed off the tracks by the massive storm surge. The storm’s tidal surge brought water up over the islands and covered them with 18 to 20 feet of water in some places and carried helpless people out to see in their homes or shelters. That isn’t the last of it though. A storm’s tidal forces through the water can drastically change the layout of the bottom of the ocean. Important Coral Reefs were obliterated in the storm’s wake. Nesting bird’s were removed with ferociousness not likely ever seen in their lifetime. In general the land and marine life was destroyed for a time. Add that to the death toll that was right around 400 people and you’ve got one of the worst hurricanes in history.

Sailing Into The Storm

Three vessels ran afoul into the storm and all three ended up on reefs in the Keys, doing further damage to the reefs. Thankfully no life was lost on any of the vessels. Though one of them ended up a drift in the storm first and went around the eye wall of the storm at least once before crashing into a reef. Given the strength of this hurricane, it was nothing if not pure luck that the ships didn’t simply vanish into the sea like so many others before them. Then again, these were large sailing vessels, no one knows how many smaller ships and boats actually did vanish into the sea.

From Destruction Comes New LifeIMAG0334

Though sad it is to realize all that was destroyed, the hurricane managed to throw enough concrete and metal into the sea to create many new reefs, and many new habitats for marine life. Trees grow back and new ones have a chance at life with the extra space. Add to that the fact that the hurricane cut new channels through the Keys, creating more paths for sea life to pass through, and even better fishing grounds for residents and tourists alike. The world is ever changing and natural disasters are just another way that mother nature creates space for new life to thrive.

Fair Warnings

It’s nice to think that we have proper warning for these storms now. Between Satellites and radar systems used to monitor the weather around the world and a simple eye to the sky with hurricane hunter planes, we can better prepare for when these monstrous storms pass through our coastal areas. Even the small but powerful storms don’t go undetected nowadays and that is a truly beautiful thing. Though our structures can only be built to withstand so much, at least we can get ourselves out of the way with nature decided to create anew.


National Weather Service (NWS)