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  • NHC Atlantic Outlook

    Atlantic 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
    Atlantic 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image

    800 PM EDT TUE JUL 22 2014

    For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

    The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
    Depression Two, located several hundred miles east of the Lesser

    Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 5 days.

    Forecaster Cangialosi

  • NHC Eastern Pacific Outlook

    Eastern Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
    Eastern Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image

    500 PM PDT TUE JUL 22 2014

    For the eastern North Pacific...east of 140 degrees west longitude:

    1. Shower and thunderstorm activity associated with a small area of
    low pressure located about 1125 miles southwest of the southern tip
    of the Baja California peninsula has changed little in organization
    during the past several hours. Environmental conditions appear
    conducive for further development of this system during the next few
    days while it moves westward or west-northwestward at 10 to 15 mph.
    * Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...40 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days...high...70 percent.

    2. An area of low pressure is forecast to form several hundred miles
    south of the coast of Mexico in a few days. Some development of this
    system is expected by the weekend while it moves generally
    * Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days...medium...50 percent.

    3. An area of low pressure could form in a few days about 1200 miles
    east-southeast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Some development of
    this system is possible by the weekend while it moves generally
    * Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days...medium...30 percent.

    4. Yet another area of low pressure could form in a few days several
    hundred miles southwest of the southern tip of the Baja California
    Peninsula. Some development of this system is possible by the
    weekend while it moves generally westward.
    * Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days...low...20 percent.

    Forecaster Beven

Hurricane Donna as she made landfall near Fort Myers, FL on Sept. 10th, 1960 

Hurricane Donna as she made landfall near Fort Myers, FL on Sept. 10th, 1960

Do YOU remember Hurricane Donna? I can I not? I grew up in South Florida and during those years I was treated to some great hurricane stories, none more interesting than those about Hurricane Donna. My mother and father both grew up in Fort Myers, FL and they endured Hurricane Donna's roaring wrath. My grandfather was a grizzled hurricane veteran having gone through almost every major hurricane to hit Florida before 1979, the year of his death. He survived the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 as a 13 year old boy and used to tell us stories about drinking whiskey (given to him by the adults to lessen the trauma) and cleaning up bloated dead bodies that seemed to be scattered everywhere he looked. I could go on and on about that but this article is about Donna.

My grandfather's harrowing experiences in Hurricane Donna are well documented in my mind. Having been through all those hurricanes helped prepare him to build a home to withstand the worst mother nature has to offer. The house was meticulously constructed from concrete block with steel reinforcement, probably as good or better than today's Dade County building codes. He boarded up the home with fitted inch thick plywood and no debris was left outside to become flying missiles during the brunt of the category 4 monster. Everything was ready for the behemoth Donna to come a callin'. My mother explained how the winds howled and the noises from debris hitting the house made them jump every so often. Of course the big gusts of wind made the house shudder, a sturdily built concrete block home mind you. This was no ordinary storm, it was a Cat 4 storm with Cat 5 gusts. The anemometer at Page Field broke from a 160+ mile per hour gust. The backup anemometer was only able to register up to 140 mph and it stayed pegged much of the time as the eyewall passed over.

The first part of the storm was terrible from wind damage but because of the angle of approach, the offshore winds actually pulled water out of the Caloosahatchee river and my parents, along with many other accounts, told me about how you could walk across the river during the eye of Donna as it passed over. The twenty to thirty mile wide eye brought about the calm that so many people mistake for the end of the storm. Unfortunately, my grandfather's best efforts were not impervious to Donna's fury. One of the plywood hurricane shutters had come loose during the worst of the eyewall and he ventured out during the eye to fix it. He always smoked big cigars and during the eye of Hurricane Donna was the one time when smoking may have saved his life. He was in the process of re-fastening the shutter when a sudden gust signaled the near end of the calm eye. The shutter escaped his grasp and went straight for his face. Thankfully the huge cigar absorbed the impact and instead of a broken nose, he just had a broken stogie. He quickly concluded the repair and got back inside just in the nick of time!

The other side of the storm was just as ferocious with the 140+ mph sustained winds but then her winds shifted to onshore sending a massive storm surge into Fort Myers Beach and the other barrier islands, then right up the previously mentioned river, filling it back up and then some. Downtown Fort Myers, where the river runs adjacent to, was under 10 ft of water at the courthouse. Fort Myers Beach was under 14 ft of water. At my Mom's house in Central Fort Myers, the American Department Store (which was right up the street) had its contents emptied thru the shattered plate glass windows that had been "taped". Of course that was a prime example of how idiotic it is to arrange masking tape in large X shapes and expect it to offer any type of protection. My mother would tell me how their house was elevated about 3 ft from the ground and the water from Donna's flooding lapped up to the bottom of the door sill. She stood in the doorway once the winds died down and watched the contents of American Department Store and other residences float down the street, on their way to an unknown destination. The house only lost a few shingles and the repaired hurricane shutter held fine but some neighbors didn't fare so well. Several had "taped" their windows (UGH!) despite my grandfather's urging them to take further steps. One home had a tree enter through a sliding glass door. Thankfully no one was hurt but the roof blew off and the family was scared to death beneath a mattress in one of the bedrooms. Numerous garage doors were mangled masses of metal or splintered wood and countless roofs were either gone or severely damaged. All accounts were to be expected from a storm of this magnitude.

Donna was a behemoth and a slow mover, not a good combination. The flooding and rainfall were disastrous, resulting in storm surge and inland flooding of horrific proportions. 

My father's story was not so harrowing. He was in a different part of Fort Myers (my parents were both kids then) and although he was in an old wood frame cracker house, it was also boarded up and situated so that it was shielded by two industrial buildings. The roof lost a number of shingles but he slept thru the first part and watched the second part thru a small opening in one of the shuttered windows. Not much fun for him. 

Fort Myers eventually recovered from Hurricane Donna and even though it's been more than 50 years you can still see evidence of her terrorizing rampage. Out on Fort Myers beach there are still railroad boxcars that had been flung from the tracks during the storm as proof of how incredibly powerful she was.

I welcome you to post your stories about Hurricane Donna, it's a storm that left an indelible mark on our family and our city.

Enjoy these videos about Hurricane Donna:


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From Jay Barnes' "Florida's Hurricane History" Book which every hurricane enthusiast should own:

      Donna was a husky lass,


      A lusty dame was she,


      She kicked her heels and swirled her skirts,


      And shrieked in fiendish glee.


      She ripped at all our buildings,


      Uprooted trees galore.


      She took the Gulf of Mexico,


      And flung it on the shore.


      She blew her breath from North and East,


      And then gave us the eye.


      And when she found we still were here,


      She made another try.


      From South and West she did her best,


      A thorough job to make.


      She passed with great reluctance,


      Leaving havoc in her wake.


      --"Donna," by W. R. "Plumb Bob" Wilson; courtesy of the Collier County Museum


After buffeting the northern coast of Cuba with strong winds and high surf, the storm labeled by the press as the "Killer Hurricane" turned toward the northwest and headed for the Florida Keys. On September 7, the same newspapers that had carried stories of the devastation Donna left in the Caribbean ran headlines that all of South Florida was on alert. At 11:00 a.m. the following day, the dreaded warning flags--red with black squares--were hoisted throughout the Keys. Weather Bureau bulletins placed the hurricane in frightening perspective by stating that it packed the same energy as a hydrogen bomb exploding every eight minutes. Many Keys residents, reminded of the awesome Labor Day storm of a generation before, packed their bags and left for Homestead and Miami. The population of the upper Keys was only 3,126 in 1960 (compared with over 24,000 in 1997), and about half of the residents from Marathon to Tavernier chose to not take any chances and fled the approaching hurricane.

Gale-force winds were first felt in the early evening of September 9, and conditions worsened toward midnight. Winds picked up dramatically early on the tenth, just before the storm's twenty-one-mile-wide eye swept over the middle Keys at about 2:30 a.m. Winds howled at over 150 mph, and a storm tide of thirteen feet pounded the narrow string of islands. Keys residents were under siege by the worst storm to strike the region since 1935. Donna's forward speed slowed as it raked the Keys, which would amplify its effects over its next target--the southwestern corner of mainland Florida.

The mighty storm began to recurve toward the northwest over Florida Bay and paralleled the coastline while passing over Cape Romano, Naples, and Fort Myers. Its turn to the north sharpened and its forward speed increased as it passed through central Florida on the afternoon of September 10. It maintained vigor on its course across the state, with winds over 100 mph reported from numerous inland locations. It continued on a northeasterly track until it returned to the Atlantic just north of Ormond Beach at about 4:00 a.m. on September 11. Even as it returned to sea, wind gusts of 99 mph were measured at the Federal Aviation Administration tower at Daytona Beach.

Like many other great hurricanes in Florida's history, Donna's visit to the United States wasn't over when it pulled away from the Sunshine State. Rapid reintensification and forward acceleration occurred once it reached the warm Gulf Stream waters off the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. By the time the storm reached the beaches of North Carolina on the evening of the eleventh, it was racing toward the northeast at over 30 mph, and maximum sustained winds were up to 115 mph. During the afternoon, several small tornadoes touched down in coastal South Carolina, causing much damage and several injuries. Even though the hurricane regained intensity before it struck the North Carolina coast, its eye had expanded to become a broad, diffuse area of calm, ranging from fifty to eighty miles in diameter. It made landfall around 10:00 p.m., inflicting extensive damages from Topsail Beach to the Virginia line. Donna was particularly destructive from Morehead City to the Outer Banks, where it was considered worse than any of the severe storms of the past decade.

After passing into the Atlantic off the Virginia capes, Donna paralleled the mid-Atlantic states and sped toward New England. The western edge of its eye brushed the coast from Virginia to New York, with many coastal areas reporting periods of intermittent calm. At Ocean City, Maryland, where winds of 83 mph were recorded before the anemometer was disabled, it was described as the worst storm in the city's history. The eye apparently was further enlarged to almost 100 miles in width as it approached the New York coast. High winds and record tides pushed onto the waterfront at Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Battery in New York City. Finally, the indomitable hurricane made landfall again on Long Island at about 2:00 p.m. on September 12. Several stations on Long Island reported sustained winds over 100 mph, and gusts of 125-30 mph were recorded at the eastern end of the island. It then passed into eastern Connecticut, through southeastern New Hampshire, and diagonally across Maine. As it tracked over New England, cooler air was entrained in the storm's circulation, and it began to weaken. By the time it raced into Newfoundland and over the Davis Strait, the once mighty storm was reduced to a broad frontal low.

Alligators, snakes, and rats were a menace in the weeks after the storm. Numerous snakebites were reported, mostly from the reptiles that had taken up residence in homes and furnishings. One truck driver had operated his vehicle for three days before discovering a rattlesnake coiled under the seat. The proliferation of rats was a health concern and prompted the state to implement a rodent control program. Five thousand pieces of poisoned meat were distributed over South Florida by boat and helicopter in an effort to exterminate the vermin. Leaflets were dropped from airplanes over Goodland and Marco advising residents to boil all drinking water, get immunizations, and keep children from playing in contaminated streams and lakes. Amazingly, no lives were lost in Collier County, and not a single case of a communicable disease was reported in the entire state following Donna's visit.

Hurricane Donna was widely regarded as the most destructive hurricane in Florida's history. Its south-to-north journey through the eastern United States was unprecedented, and a new generation of coastal residents witnessed the power of a great storm. A 1961 summary published in the Monthly Weather Review defined Donna's place in history: "Donna was unique in that it gave hurricane force winds to Florida, the Middle Atlantic States, and New England. However, although it was one of the most destructive hurricanes of all time, loss of life was remarkably low. This can be attributed to three factors--timely and accurate warnings, effective dissemination by news media and other agencies, and the taking of proper precautions by the public. The accuracy of the warnings is in large part a reflection of the continuous tracking by aircraft reconnaissance and land-based radar, which was probably the most complete of any hurricane in history."

Enjoy the following videos of Hurricane Donna's destruction:

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