Thursday, June 2, 2011

Florida History: Fort Lauderdale's last direct hurricane hit and its legacy

By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale gets hit by a hurricane every 2.85 years, according to With that frequency, it’s worth noting the last direct hit on this city from the Atlantic was in 1947. There has been significant damage from hurricanes over the years (Wilma 2005, Cleo 1964, Betsy 1965)* but none since 1947 have taken a direct swipe at Fort Lauderdale from the east.

Before the September 1947 hurricane, South Florida had already experienced an unusually wet rainy season; it couldn’t take much more precipitation. And then came the September ‘cane.  The storm probably developed over French West Africa before its track was picked up in the Atlantic on its way to the Bahamas and Fort Lauderdale.  On September 17, winds were measured at 155 mph at the Hillsboro Lighthouse. Damage was light compared to the 1926 storm but problems were generated by eight inches of water the storm left atop an already saturated water table. New River came over its banks and sat … and then a second hurricane hit.

Though milder, the October hurricane dropped another 11 inches of rain in three hours. Knee - to waist-deep water settled in downtown Fort Lauderdale, flooding businesses and homes. By air, South Florida appeared to be a lake stretching from the ocean west to Collier County.   Some said they could take a boat from Fort Lauderdale to Naples for six weeks. Farm lands were devastated, highways were closed. The water finally receded by Christmas that year.

Part of the legacy of the flooding of ’47 was the South Florida Water Management District created in 1948.  Some note that since it was established, there hasn’t been a major flood in the area. Nor has there been a direct hit on Fort Lauderdale (now overpopulated, overdeveloped) from a powerful hurricane with catastrophic storm surge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

* Wilma came from the west; Cleo and Betsy from the south.

For more hurricane history:

or: use search box at top right and search for "Hurricane."
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).
Weidling, Philip J., Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).

Tags: Hurricane history, Fort Lauderdale history, Fort Lauderdale in the 1940s, last direct hurricane hit Fort Lauderdale

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