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Hurricanes old and new will be topics of DeSantis' Flagler workshop


Date: July 25, 2017
Source: The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Author:  Dinah Voyles Pulver


Ninety-one years ago this week, a hurricane roared up Florida’s east coast, but unlike last October’s Hurricane Matthew, the July 1926 hurricane did make landfall here.

Weather experts used to think the storm made landfall between Cocoa Beach and Melbourne, said Al Sandrik, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Jacksonville. But, after some in-depth research, a hurricane reanalysis team with the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center is rewriting history to reflect the storm’s actual path — landfall near Ponce Inlet.

Just what that team has discovered will be among the topics discussed during a hurricane readiness workshop in Bunnell on Wednesday. The workshop — to provide the community resources for preparing for hurricanes — is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

“Preparing for a hurricane can help your family avoid disaster and recover quickly after the storm passes,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Government agencies and local non-profits will be on-hand to provide critical safety information, including local emergency procedures and the importance of developing an emergency plan before a storm hits.”

Sandrik, representatives of local and state emergency management offices and the Florida National Guard are scheduled to share information. The three-hour workshop starts at 3 p.m., in the Flagler County Emergency Services Operation Center, Building 3, 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Bunnell.

To investigate the 1926 storm, the hurricane reanalysis team looked at old weather records and observations and news stories, including those from what was then known as the Daytona Beach Journal.

“The old hurricane database was very flawed and everybody knew it,” Sandrik said. “So there has been an extensive effort to try to correct a lot of the old storms.”

The team updates the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane database, called HURDAT2. The historical archive covers all tropical storms, subtropical storms, and hurricanes in the North Atlantic basin since 1851. The database is used by research scientists,operational hurricane forecasters, insurance companies, emergency managers and others. That’s why the NHC and others say it’s critical to update it with correct information.

“When we go back into the old records from St. Augustine, some of the old hurricanes obviously made landfall south of the city, for example between Matanzas Inlet and the Ormond Beach area,” said Sandrik. “We know that some of the storms produced tremendous storm surge and that can only be accounted for by storms that made landfall further to the south.

“Some of these storm surges were much greater than what was experienced with Matthew,” he added.

The old news stories show how much forecasting and a 24-hour a day news cycle have changed things. On July 27, 1926, the day of the storm, the newspaper ran just a couple of small briefs on the front page, one saying the storm was lashing Miami and another saying fears of the storm hitting Daytona Beach were alleviated because the barometric pressure wasn’t dropping as low as expected at the city fire station.

By the next day’s paper, the storm had lashed the city with powerful winds and waves.

“Gigantic waves, sweeping shoreward made it impossible for traffic at any place down the beach,” the newspaper reported. “Spray, hurled 10 and 12 feet in the air, follows each crash of the waves as they splash against the embankments.” The storm also took out electrical service in the city.

“Patrons of the picture shows, suddenly left in darkness, made their way to the entrances, only to be met with a 50-mile gale and a deluge of rain,” the newspaper reported. “Cars parked along the streets were stalled, awnings were crashing and several windows were reported to have been caved in by the wind.”

A weather bureau advisory stated the storm was “apparently moving north or northwest.”

The Journal reported “no serious damage,” even though the storm lashed the city for 14 hours, uprooting trees and shattering plate glass windows. The hurricane sent the Indian River out of its banks in New Smyrna Beach and members of the Daytona Beach police force reported catching a four-pound mullet in two feet of water on Beach Street.

By July 29, 1926, the newspaper reported the storm had left a trail of damage in its wake, claiming 150 lives in San Domingo, sinking 75 boats in the Bahamas and causing more than $2.5 million in damage in Palm Beach, where it sank more than 40 houseboats and yachts.

After the July 1926 storm made landfall, Sandrik said “it kind of progressed inland toward the St. Johns River and then moved northward into Georgia.”

At the workshop on Wednesday, Sandrik plans to talk about the history of hurricanes in Flagler County and the 1926 hurricane.

He’ll also explain the forecast process associated with Hurricane Matthew and talk about how much worse the damage would have been if Matthew had made landfall somewhere on the coast of Volusia and Flagler counties.

“Any deviation of that storm further to the west would have easily brought hurricane force winds to eastern Flagler County,” Sandrik said.

“People don’t realize the sustained hurricane force winds were not very far offshore,” he said. If the western wall of the eye of the storm had brushed the coast, the area could have experienced winds as high as 110 mph. If the eastern eye wall had come ashore, he said, the sustained hurricane force winds would have been even higher.

During the peak of Matthew’s winds, sustained hurricane force winds might have been felt on some area beaches, he said, but without any monitoring equipment, there’s no way to know for sure.

As it is, he said, “a lot of people have suffered very significantly.”

In St. Augustine, work continues on houses in the heavily flooded Davis Shores section, and people are still living in motor homes, he said. “If that storm had been a little further west, that would have been multiplied 1,000 times.”