Worst Hurricanes to hit Florida in the Past Century

The following is a list of the major hurricanes that have hit the Florida coast from 1900 to present.   Click on year to jump directly to specific hurricane.

 Ledgend:  Storms shown with this lable include a separate webpage for additional data and pictures.


Introduction.  Of all recorded hurricanes to hit the US since 1851, 36% have made landfall in Florida.   The above chart shows the paths of the major hurricnaes (category 3 and higher) that have passed through the State of Florida since 1851.   The most affected counties are in the shaded area.

 Hurricane Andrews

A ‘modern-day apocalypse’

Packing winds of more than 160 mph, Hurricane Andrew slams into South Florida causing 29 deaths and property damage exceeding $25 billion. 1.4 million (45%) of our customers are without power.

For 27 years, South Florida had been spared a severe hurricane. Then Andrew arrived, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Andrew wrecked more property than Hugo, Agnes and Betsy combined, with damages estimated at $25 billion. Twenty-three died.

Andrew was a small but ferocious storm that began its destruction by ripping through the Bahamas with 150 mph winds on Aug. 23, killing three people. The next day, Andrew crashed into Dade Country, flattening houses, toppling palm trees, and leaving thousands of residents homeless and panic-stricken.

This water tower, a landmark at Florida City, Fla., stands Aug. 25, 1992, over the ruins of the community that was hit by the force of Hurricane Andrew. The tower along with much of the town was later replaced. Andrew, the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, destroyed 80 percent of the taxable real estate in Florida City.
(AP Photo/File)

Andrew was a category 4 hurricane with a central pressure of 922 millibars, the third lowest measured for a hurricane hitting the United States. (The most intense hit the Florida Keys in 1935; Camille ranks second.)

Hurrican Andrews Storm Track

    Hurricane Betsy,  Bad Betsy changed direction

Hurricane Betsy hits the upper keys with 140 mph winds, leaving 13 dead and 49% of FPL’s customers without electricity.

Hurricane Betsy was building strength; it looked like it was aiming for South Carolina, posing no threat to South Florida. But on Saturday, Sept. 4, the storm whirled to a stop, about 350 miles east of Jacksonville. When Betsy started moving again on Sunday, she had changed directions. The storm plowed through the Bahamas Monday night, then mauled South Florida a day later.

Betsy was a huge storm — more than 600 miles from edge to edge with an eye estimated to be 40 miles wide at one point. The size of the storm meant that while the eye passed over the Keys, serious damage stretched north to Fort Lauderdale. The storm brought a six-foot storm surge that flooded Miami and Fort Lauderdale and is said to have nearly covered the island of Key Biscayne.

In Fort Lauderdale, A1A could not be distinguished from the beach and some homes on Las Olas Isles were submerged during the storm, according to the Fort Lauderdale News coverage. The high storm tide backed the New River out of its banks causing it to overflow into downtown Fort Lauderdale a foot deep, the News reported.

After hitting South Florida, Betsy drew increased strength from the warm waters of the Gulf. It packed winds of 135 mph by the time it slammed into the Louisiana coast several days later.

Betsy’s reign of terror was Sept. 6 to 10, 1965, and 75 people died, primarily in Louisiana.


 – Hurricane Cleo

The day the News didn’t publish

Hurricane Cleo passes over Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 110 mph winds cause $125 million in damage and put 68% of our customers in the dark.

Hurricane Cleo blasted Key Biscayne and then moved north along the state’s coastline, following State Road 7 and passing over Miami, Opa-locka, West Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. The hurricane caused massive flooding, structural damage and destruction of the citrus crop. It also prevented the Fort Lauderdale News from publishing — for the only time in its history.

Like all newspapers of the era, the News, an afternoon newspaper that was the precursor to the Sun-Sentinel, was printed using linotype machines and molten lead. Thanks to Cleo, the power was out so long the News could not melt lead to form news type.

News employees were trapped inside overnight. Years later, veteran newsman Scott Marshall recalled, “We slept on the floor, the desk tops, whatever. We had all this copy written but we never did publish,“ You can read the front page message about Cleo from the News here.

Cleo cut power to 620,000 homes and businesses. Much like Hurricane Andrew later, Cleo left a lasting mark on the community. Landmarks, such as Storyland, a popular children’s theme park on South Federal Highway in Pompano Beach, were destroyed and never rebuilt. Residents who had been complacent about hurricane preparation rushed to buy shutters.

Cleo, a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 mph, was one of nine named storms that year.


 Hurricane Donna

Donna batters Florida, entire U.S. East Coast

Tidal flooding in Everglades City is pictured two days after the passage of Hurricane Donna. Flooding was six to seven feet deep at peak tide, according to caption information from the Florida State Archives.

Hurricane Donna roars across South Florida with an 11-foot storm surge, 150 mph winds and more than $300 million in damage. 13 people are dead and 51% of FPL’s customers are without electric service.

After swiping the Florida Keys and striking land near Fort Myers on Sept. 10, ‘Deadly Donna’ did not travel along the usual path that storms of her magnitude usually take.

Instead of heading back to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, Donna took on the unusual distinction of being the only hurricane of record to produce hurricane-force winds throughout the U.S. East Coast from Florida, the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.

The hurricane’s center passed through 60 miles west of Miami, sparing Broward County. This time, Broward residents only experienced 80 mile-per-hour winds as Donna’s fringes passed by, causing a few trees and signs to tumble down.

Unfortunately, residents in the Florida Keys fared worse, having to endure 13-foot storm surges and 150 mile-per-hour winds. Bridges were washed away and homes resembled splintered matchsticks for miles. The Fort Lauderdale News reported that the Tampa Weather Bureau predicted statewide property damage to reach $2 billion.

Donna continued her romp through the East Coast as a Category 2 storm, whipping every state from South Carolina to New York before slamming into New England on Sept. 12. Wind gusts of 130 miles-per-hour were recorded in Rhode Island and a terrifyingly large 100-mile-wide-eye later crossed Long Island.

Hurricane Donna was the fifth-strongest hurricane of record to hit the U.S., causing 50 deaths, $387 million in property damage and affected over 50 million people according to the National Hurricane Center.

 Isamadora Hurricane (Key Largo)

This storm, made famous by the movie Key Largo, crossed the Keys at Isamadora, and killed 408 people and wiped out the roadroad to Key West.  Most of the victoms of this storm will fleeing the hurricane by means of the railroad when a tidal wave swept the train from the tracks.

Hurricane Track


 Palm Beach

The night 2,000 (mostly black sugar plantation workers) died – When the hurricane roared ashore at Palm Beach September 16, 1928, many coastal residents were prepared.  But inland, along Lake Okeechobee, few conceived the disaster that was brewing.   The storm struck first in Puerto Rico, killing 1,000 people, then hit Florida with 125 mph winds.  Forty miles west of the coast, rain filled Lake Okeechobee to the brim and the dikes crumbled.   Water rushed onto the swampy farmland, and homes and people were swept away. Almost 2,000 people perished.   It is said that as many as an additional 1000 may have never been counted.


1928 Hurricane Track

The Hurricane of 1926 / Fort Lauderdale and Miami Areas

The 1926 storm was described by the U.S. Weather Bureau in Miami as “probably the most destructive hurricane ever to strike the United States.” It hit Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Hollywood, Hallandale and Miami. The death toll is estimated to be from 325 to perhaps as many as 800. No storm in previous history had done as much property damage.

With estimated gusts up to 150 mph, a hurricane damages or destroys most buildings in Dade and Broward counties. 243 people are dead.

The 1926 Hurricane Storm Track

   Key West Hurricane

Key West was hit by the most powerful hurricane in its history on Sept. 10, 1919. It was the only hurricane to form in the Atlantic that year. The storm killed more than 800 people before it was done — the exact total will never be known.

More than 500 were lost on ten ships that either sunk or were reported missing. The steamer Valbanera was found between Key West and the Dry Tortugas sunk with 488 aboard, according to Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys. All were lost.

Storm damage included severe damage to the Key West-Havana docks and buildings in Key West and major devastation in Corpus Christi.

The barometric pressure measured at Dry Tortugas was 27.37 inches — the fourth lowest ever measured in the Atlantic, according to the Weather Service. Key West had gale force winds (sustained winds over 39 mph) for 38 consecutive hours. Some places in the Keys had over 13 inches of rain. The maximum sustained winds were 110 mph.


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