1903 Florida hurricane

The 1903 Florida hurricane was a moderate Atlantic hurricane that caused extensive wind and flood damage in peninsular Florida and over the adjourning Southeastern United States in early to mid September 1903. The third tropical cyclone and third hurricane of the season, this storm was first observed near the Turks and Caicos Islands early on September 9. Moving northwestward, it became a hurricane the next day and passed near Nassau, Bahamas. The cyclone then turned to the west-northwest on September 11 and passed just north of Bimini. As it crossed the Bahamas, the cyclone produced hurricane-force winds that caused damage to crops and buildings, but no deaths were reported over the island chain.

Hurricane Three
Meteorological history
FormedSeptember 9, 1903 (1903-09-09)
DissipatedSeptember 16, 1903 (1903-09-17)
Category 1 hurricane
1-minute sustained (SSHWS/NWS)
Highest winds90 mph (150 km/h)
Lowest pressure976 mbar (hPa); 28.82 inHg
(lowest directly measured)
Overall effects
Fatalities14 direct
Damage$500,000 (1903 USD)($17 million in 2024 USD)
Areas affectedThe Bahamas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia
IBTrACSEdit this at Wikidata

Part of the 1903 Atlantic hurricane season

Late that day, the cyclone struck near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The steamship Inchulva capsized near Delray Beach, drowning nine of her crew members. The cyclone caused severe wind damage in present-day Broward and Palm Beach counties, although most of the losses were to crops such as sugarcane. The cyclone weakened to a tropical storm while crossing Florida, but re-intensified into a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico on September 13. Hours later the storm made landfall near present-day Panama City, Florida. In Northwest Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, the cyclone produced widespread rainfall, causing some crop damage. Additionally, a storm surge caused boats to be blown ashore in the Florida panhandle. In all, the storm killed 14 people in Florida and produced $500,000 in damage.[nb 1]

After falling to tropical storm intensity early on September 14, the storm weakened to a tropical depression on September 16, several hours before dissipating over South Carolina.

Meteorological history edit

 
Map plotting the storm's track and intensity, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale
Map key
  Tropical depression (≤38 mph, ≤62 km/h)
  Tropical storm (39–73 mph, 63–118 km/h)
  Category 1 (74–95 mph, 119–153 km/h)
  Category 2 (96–110 mph, 154–177 km/h)
  Category 3 (111–129 mph, 178–208 km/h)
  Category 4 (130–156 mph, 209–251 km/h)
  Category 5 (≥157 mph, ≥252 km/h)
  Unknown
Storm type
  Extratropical cyclone, remnant low, tropical disturbance, or monsoon depression

Based upon scientific research conducted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division in 2003, the cyclone is estimated to have begun as a moderate tropical storm about 15 miles (25 km) south-southeast of West Caicos early on September 9. However, due to scarce observations, its genesis likely occurred earlier than this time but was undetected operationally.[1] Moving slowly northwest, the cyclone quickly strengthened into a hurricane with winds of 75 mph (120 km/h), equivalent to Category 1 on the Saffir–Simpson scale, early the next day. By 00:00 UTC on September 11, it attained its initial peak of 85 mph (140 km/h) while about 10 miles (15 km) west-northwest of Nassau, New Providence Island. Turning to the west-northwest, the cyclone maintained its intensity while passing just north of Bimini.[2] Around 23:00 UTC, the cyclone struck South Florida near Fort Lauderdale.[1][3] Thereafter, the hurricane weakened upon crossing the Everglades, diminishing to a tropical storm early on September 12.[2]

Shortly afterward, the cyclone entered the Gulf of Mexico near Egmont Key, in the Tampa Bay area, with winds of 60 mph (95 km/h). Then it quickly began to restrengthen, regaining hurricane status the following day while centered about 100 miles (160 km) south of St. Marks, in the Big Bend of Florida. As it neared the Florida panhandle the storm, curving to the northwest and increasing its forward speed, acquired its secondary and strongest peak of 90 mph (150 km/h). The hurricane passed just west of Cape San Blas, but did not strike there. As its heading veered to the north-northwest, the cyclone made landfall just east of Panama City around 23:00 UTC.[3][1] Moving inland, the cyclone decelerated dramatically and lost hurricane intensity, weakening further as it entered southern Alabama early on September 14. The next day, its trajectory gradually veered eastward, and by 00:00 UTC on September 16, it degenerated into a tropical depression. Less than 24 hours later, the system dissipated just east of the Georgia–South Carolina border.[2]

Preparations and impact edit

Between 06:00 and 12:00 UTC on September 10, the United States Weather Bureau issued storm signals, equivalent to a tropical storm warning in 2024, from Cedar Key, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina.[4][5] These were later upgraded to hurricane warnings in South Florida.[4] Due to inclement weather conditions in West Palm Beach, which had been newly incorporated as a town just days earlier, businesses suspended their normal operations and people boarded up buildings, even as the strongest winds arrived.[4] As the cyclone moved into the Gulf of Mexico, reports from September 12 through September 14 helped ships prepare for the storm.[6]

In the Bahamas, the eye of the storm passed over Cat Cay, accompanied by a barometric reading of 28.82 inHg (976 mb). Only 0.84 inches (21 mm) of rain attended the passage of the hurricane on the island.[7] On New Providence Island, Nassau recorded a pressure of 988.8 mbar (29.20 inHg) and winds of 60 mph (97 km/h), shortly before the anemometer blew away. Afterward, the winds shifted from east to south and were estimated to be as high as 90 mph (140 km/h). On the island, the hurricane ruined the fruit crop and caused considerable damage to small structures.[8][9] The storm also caused heavy damage to local shipping.[10]

In southeast Florida, no meteorological observations were available within 50 miles (80 km) of the eye.[8] However, the cyclone did produce an 8-foot (2.4 m) storm surge at Jupiter,[11] which was near the radius of maximum wind,[12] and generated sustained winds of 84 mph (135 km/h) there. Winds of damaging force extended 30 miles (50 km) north of Jupiter, and the preponderance of the damage was limited to areas south of that settlement. Only pineapple sheds were damaged at Jupiter.[8] About 9 mi (14 km) south, the schooner Martha T. Thomas was blown ashore, without loss of crew members.[13]

In West Palm Beach, many buildings were unroofed, while rainfall and winds subsequently caused further damage to their interiors, such as at The Tropical Sun office building, the Seminole Hotel, the Palms Hotel, Schmid's Commercial Hotel, and properties owned by former mayor Marion E. Gruber. Several other businesses suffered similar damage. Much debris, including roofing materials, branches, paper, and driftwood, was thrown into the streets, and large trees were "snapped off". In the African American section of the town, several buildings were destroyed, including three of the four churches. Damage there ran "way up in the thousands."[4]

Hotels on the nearby island of Palm Beach survived, but many coconut palms and other vegetation were prostrated. On the west shoreline of Lake Worth Lagoon, homes were swept off their foundations and their interiors flooded.[4] Coconut trees and shrubbery were also toppled on Munyon Island. All three of the cottages were blown into the Lake Worth Lagoon, while the hotel also suffered some damage.[14] The Lake Worth News building in Lake Worth was severely damaged by flooding.[4] Destruction in Boynton Beach was "almost indescribable." Dozens of homes were damaged to some degree. The ground was "literally covered" with fruit, including guava, lemons, and lime, while pineapple fields were flattened. Power and telegraph lines and trees, including many large pine trees, were toppled throughout the city. Offshore, a Standard Oil barge was beached against a reef; the crew of 11 men were forced to swim ashore.[15]

The settlements of Pompano, where the eye was believed to have come ashore, and Delray Beach were nearly annihilated; trees were defoliated and many buildings dismantled. At Pompano the two-story McNab home was leveled, along with a well-built packing house.[4] Offshore of Delray Beach, the 400-foot-long (120 m) British steamship Inchulva, laden with 7,000 t (7,000,000 kg) of wheat, wrecked near the Orange Grove House of Refuge. Of the 28 crew members, nine drowned as the ship stranded just 200 yd (180 m) off the beach. The wreck was later salvaged and transformed into an underwater diving attraction.[16]

Damage in the Miami area was mainly confined to small buildings that were overturned, trees uprooted, smokestacks downed, metal awnings broken, and metal roofs scattered. Only two or three homes were blown off their foundations in the northern part of the area. At the new building for The Miami Metropolis, the wall on the west side collapsed. Telegraph and electrical lines were downed throughout the city, leaving the streets "a tangle of wires."[17] The loss of electricity was restored by the night of September 12.[15] Damage in South Florida reached $100,000,[8] mainly to crops such as sugarcane in the Everglades.[18][19]

In Central Florida, the cyclone only caused minor damage to structures and blew down trees, but at least two people died in Tampa. The storm also damaged businesses in the area and reportedly blew down half the local orange crop.[13] Heavy rainfall occurred along the path, peaking at 14+12 in (370 mm) at Fort Meade.[20] In the Florida panhandle, the hurricane produced a pressure of 984.8 mbar (29.08 inHg) and winds up to 80 mph (130 km/h) at St. Andrews settlement, near Panama City. The peak storm surge was measured at up to 10 ft (3.0 m) in the town of Apalachicola. Up to 50% of the cotton crop was destroyed, but overall structural damage was minor, though ships were grounded near Apalachicola.[21][18] As the cyclone moved inland over Alabama and Georgia on September 14 and 15, it produced widespread rains peaking at 5.42 in (138 mm) at Griffin, Georgia. Minor crop damage occurred in low-lying areas, but advance warning reduced the potential damage.[22] Overall, the hurricane killed 14 people, all in Florida, and caused $500,000 in losses.[23][19]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ All damage totals are in 1903 United States dollars unless otherwise noted.

References edit

  1. ^ a b c Landsea, Chris; Anderson, Craig; Bredemeyer, William; et al. Documentation of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones Changes in HURDAT: 1903/03. Re-Analysis Project (Report). Miami, Florida: Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved April 19, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)" (Database). United States National Hurricane Center. April 5, 2023. Retrieved April 19, 2024.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b Landsea, Chris; Anderson, Craig; Bredemeyer, William; et al. (January 2022). Continental United States Hurricanes (Detailed Description). Re-Analysis Project (Report). Miami, Florida: Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved April 19, 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "East Coast Storm Swept". The Tropical Sun. West Palm Beach, Florida. September 12, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  5. ^ "El Tiempo". Diario de la Marina (in Spanish). Havana, Cuba. September 11, 1903. p. 2. (Translation): Storm signals were ordered at Cedar Keys, Dunnellon, Tampa, Punta Gorda, Punta Rassa, Savannah, and Charleston. The tempest is at present over the western Bahamas and increasing in force. Violent and dangerous gusts are indicated on the Florida coast tonight and on the east Gulf and south Atlantic coast tomorrow.
  6. ^ Garriott 1903, p. 408.
  7. ^ MWR 1903a.
  8. ^ a b c d Garriott 1903, p. 407.
  9. ^ Partagás & Díaz 1995, p. 52.
  10. ^ "Hurricane in the Bahamas". The New York Times. September 14, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved March 7, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.  
  11. ^ Barnes 1998, p. 84.
  12. ^ Ho et al. 1987, p. 14.
  13. ^ a b "Deaths in Florida Storm". New York Times. September 15, 1903. p. 3. Retrieved March 7, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.  
  14. ^ "Munyon's Island Storm Swept". Tropical Sun. September 19, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Some Details of Last Week's Storm". The Miami Metropolis. Miami, Florida. September 18, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  16. ^ Kleinberg 2003, pp. 245.
  17. ^ "Severe Storm Visits Miami". Miami Metropolis. Miami, Florida. September 11, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  18. ^ a b Berry 1903.
  19. ^ a b Mitchell 1903, p. 4.
  20. ^ Schoner & Molansky 1956, p. 168.
  21. ^ Barnes 1998, p. 845.
  22. ^ MWR 1903b, p. 409.
  23. ^ Barnes 1998, p. 85.

Sources edit