National Weather Service
WEATHER FORECAST OFFICE (WFO) Miami, Florida
Memorial Web Page
By September, 1926, the population of Dade County and the young City of Miami had blossomed to well over 100,000 (more than doubling from the census figure of 42,753 in 1920) and construction was everywhere. Smaller nearby settlements of Lemon City, Cocoanut Grove, and Little River were absorbed as Miami swelled with new residents; optimistic, speculative, and woefully under-educated about hurricanes. New buildings were constantly starting on Miami Beach, which had been built across Biscayne Bay on a series of barrier islands, bulldozed from their mangrove beginnings.
The U.S. Government, including the Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau recognized that Miami would soon be an important American city with tremendous growth and economic potential. In 1900, the cooperative weather station originally started in 1895 in Lemon City (about 5 miles north near NE 2nd Avenue and 61st Streeti) was moved to Miami. In June, 1911, a first order Weather Bureau Office was established in downtown Miami, headed by Richard Gray.
The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 was of classic Cape Verde origin, first known to the Weather Bureau from ship reports in the central tropical Atlantic on September 11. It passed north of the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico on the 14th, 15th, and 16th, avoiding normal channels of Caribbean information. Therefore, in those days before satellite pictures and reconnaissance aircraft, the hurricane remained somewhat of a mystery, with only a few ship reports to tell of its existence.
In those days, storm warnings were centralized in Washington, DC, and disseminated to field offices like Miami. However, as late as the morning of September 17, less than 24 hours before the category 4 storm's effects would begin in South Florida, no warnings had been issued. At noon, the Miami Weather Bureau Office was authorized to post storm warnings (one step below hurricane, or winds of 48 to 55 knots). It was only as the barometer began a precipitous fall, around 11 PM the night of September 17, that Gray hoisted hurricane warnings.
The story of what happened over the next 12 hours is best told by those who lived through it at the Weather Bureau Office. Click on the links below to read the official record written by Official-in-Charge Richard Gray of the Miami Weather Bureau Office.
Weather Bureau Record Part 1
Weather Bureau Record Part 2
Weather Bureau Record Part 3
Also, the account of the hurricane from the Monthly Weather Review is very good.
Monthly Weather Review Part 1
Monthly Weather Review Part 2
Monthly Weather Review Part 3
The eye of the hurricane, with its period of relative calm, passed over downtown Miami and parts of Cocoanut Grove and South Miami around 630 AM on September 18. Residents of the city, unfamiliar with hurricanes, thought the storm was over and emerged from their places of refuge out into the city streets. People even began returning to the mainland from Miami Beach. The lull lasted only about 35 minutes, according to Gray, during which the streets became "crowded with people". The worst part of the hurricane, with onshore southeasterly winds bringing a 10 foot storm surge onto Miami Beach and the barrier islands, began around 7 AM and continued the rest of the morning. At the height of the storm surge, the water from the Atlantic extended all the way across Miami Beach and Biscayne Bay into the City of Miami for several city blocks.
On October 9, well after the hurricane, the Red Cross reported that 372 persons had died in the storm and over 6,000 persons were injured. Damages in 1926 dollars were estimated at $105 million, which would be more than $100 billion in today's dollars.
The 1926 Miami Hurricane made a second landfall in Florida on September 20 near Pensacola before moving on in a weakened state to coastal Mississippi and Louisiana on September 21.
The National Weather Service and the Old Post Office LLC collaborated to install a State of Florida historical marker commemorating the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. The marker is located at the northwest corner of NE 1st Avenue and 1st Street in downtown Miami.
Note to reader...most if not all of the following pictures are available from the Florida Memory Project of the Florida Photographic Collection.
Bayshore Drive 2
casino wreckage on the beach
Coast Guard cutter
Collins Avenue sand on the beach
Coral Gables 2
from Miami Daily News building
Dania ice plant
Deauville Hotel on the beach
Fort Lauderdale arcade
Fort Lauderdale church
Haulover bridge - before
Haulover bridge - after
Hollywood corner of Arthur and Dixie Highway
Hollywood Young Circle
Miami damage 1
Miami damage 2
Miami damage 3
Miami Beach 1
Miami Beach 2
West Flagler St
windows blown out of factory
Barnes, J., 1998: Florida’s Hurricane History. The University of North Carolina Press, 330 pp.
Douglas, M. S., 1958: Hurricane. Rinehart and Company, Inc., 393 pp.
Dunn, G. E., and B. I. Miller, 1960: Atlantic Hurricanes. Louisiana State University Press, 326 pp.
Dunn, M., 1997: Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. University Press of Florida, 414 pp.
George, P. S., 1996: Miami—One hundred years of history. South Florida Hist., 24 (2), 22–36.
Hamm, H.H., 1926: 101 Views of the South Florida Hurricane, September 17–18, 1926. Schwartz News Co., 47 pp.
Jarrell, J. D., M. Mayfield, E. N. Rappaport, and C. Landsea, 2001: The deadliest, costliest, and most intense United States hurricanes from 1900 to 2000 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts). NOAA Tech. Memo. NWS-TPC-3, 29 pp.
Landsea, Christopher W., 2006: personal communication.
Mitchell, C. L., 1926: The West Indian Hurricane of September 14-22, 1926. Mon. Wea. Rev., 54, 409–414.
Pfost, Russell, 2003: Reassessing the Impact of Two Historical Florida Hurricanes. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 84, 1367-1372.
Pielke, R.A., and C. W. Landsea, 1998: Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1925–95. Wea. Forecasting, 13, 621–631.
Rappaport, E. N., and J. Fernández-Partagás, 1995: The deadliest Atlantic tropical cyclones, 1492—1994. NOAA Tech. Memo. NWS NHC-47, 41 pp.
Reardon, L. F., 1926: The Florida Hurricane and Disaster. Reprinted 1986, Lion and Thorne Publishers, 112 pp.
Tannehill, I. R., 1943: Hurricanes: Their Nature and History, Particularly Those of the West Indies and the Southern Coasts of the United States. 4th ed. Princeton University Press, 257 pp.
Tyler, L. L., 1926: A Pictorial History of the Florida Hurricane, September 18, 1926. The Tyler Publishing Co., 32 pp.