1946 Hurricane

The 1946 Tampa Bay Hurricane

Tampa Bay, Florida on October 7th, 1946 faced a Category-2 hurricane having wind speeds over 100miles/hr in the center. The storm entered West Coast of Florida near Tampa and Fort Myers around midnight and swept Northwards across the state with a speed of 15 miles/hr. The eye of the hurricane was 140 miles SW of the Key-West area. As it approached the Florida Keys archipelago, many trucks from Red Cross rumbled over Overseas-Highway escorted by patrolmen from the state highway. Their mission was to bring out anyone caring to leave homes in the islands to take shelter in Key West or Miami. Residents in Fort Myers and Key West braced themselves to face the blow by boarding their windows and alerting relief and disaster workers.

The entire west coast of Florida peninsula was placed on an urgent alert with hurricane warnings flying as far north as Cedar Keys. The vicious tropical cyclone with winds more than 100 mile an hour bored into the Gulf of Mexico and placed Florida’s $100mn citrus crops in jeopardy. Mass evacuation of some 2000 residents of the government sub-division, Poinciana Place, began on the morning of 7th October 1946 as navy vessels put out to sea to ride the tropical hurricane which was lashing the tiny Key West island city.

Gusts of more than 60 miles per hour were reported by the weather bureau, with a sustained wind of between 48 and 50 mile per hour whipping across the Atlantic and sending mountainous waves hundreds of feet inland. Winds buffeted the streets and whipped palm fronds and the streets were flooded with water in some places six inches deep from torrential rains that generally precede a tropical storm. With the storm center 140 miles southwest of Havana at midnight the Cuban town of San Julian was being buffeted by 112-mile winds. W.O. Johnson, federal storm forecaster, urged the more populous areas of the rich ‘gold coast’ from Miami northward and the west coast above Fort Myers to remain on the alert. Dozens of airplanes flew northward to escape the storm and two blimps scurried from the Key West naval air station at Glynco, Ga., to seek haven.

Rubin Frost, meteorologist of the Key West weather bureau, said indications were that the center of the storm would pass to the west of Key West around noon (P.S.T.). He said the center probably would cross the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of the Keys. As navy ships up-anchored, other vessels, including the Cuban schooner Verlato out of Havana, hauled into port to get out of the storm.

Small boat owners headed for protected coves and rivers. Pan-American Airways cancelled flights to Havana, Guatemala, and Merida, Yucatan, but its longer range schedules – the Panama Canal Zone and South America departed on schedule and sped around the hurricane. One passenger was Manolete, the famed Spanish bull fighter, who flew to Peru.

It was the first real hurricane threat to the Florida Peninsula since the beginning of the storm season in August. Authorities urged citizens to rush preparations and be “safe rather than sorry”. A “full alert” was issued to all disaster and relief workers by the Red Cross, with special orders to residents in the Florida Keys to take “immediate action.”

A professional football game scheduled for Miami’s Orange Bowl stadium on the 7th night between Miami Seahawks and San Francisco ‘49ers’ was expected to be played unless the approaching storm forced the city to take down the stadium lights. Dade county officials planned to operate schools as usual and classes at the University of Miami continued.