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Ten Deadliest and Most Destructive Hurricanes to Hit Florida

deadly & destructive Fort Lauderdale hurricanes

 Hurricanes in Florida: An All Too Familiar Event

High winds, torrential rains, property damage, and even death: The trademarks of a hurricane are unmistakable. A hurricane is a tropical storm that develops over water – usually in the Caribbean or off the coast of Africa – and then moves west, picking up heat and energy.

Eventually, the warm air moves to the center, or the eye, of the storm. In order to qualify as a hurricane, a storm must have winds of at least 74 mph, though the worst hurricanes, those in Category 5, have winds over 155 mph. If you live in Florida, there is no doubt that you have experienced the effects of a hurricane in some form or another. According to the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 40 percent of all hurricanes in America strike Florida. Hurricane City, a hurricane tracking service, reports that Miami experiences a hurricane or tropical storm every 1.99 years and has had 31 hurricanes since meteorologists first began recording them in 1871.

The Most Brutal of the Bunch

Most Brutal of the Bunch


Although hurricanes strike Florida with alarming regularity, some cause less destruction than others. For Florida citizens, Hurricane Jeanne or Hurricane Wilma are often frequent conversation fillers. Or if you are new to the state, you hear horror stories of the terrible storms that have affected your adopted home. Native Floridian or recent transplant, here is a look at the true data behind the 10 worst hurricanes to affect Florida.

  1. Key West – Key West was hit on September 10, 1919 with a storm that left more than 800 dead.
  2. Miami – In 1926, one of the most destructive hurricanes in history struck Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Hallandale, and Dania. It left between 325 and 800 dead and caused more property damage than any previous hurricane.
  3. Okeechobee – The 125 mph winds did not cause quite so much damage to the residents of Palm Beach when it struck on September 16, 1928. However, 40 miles away, Lake Okeechobee flooded and the dikes broke, causing a major flood that killed at least 2,000 people.
  4. The Florida Keys Labor Day – In 1935, a Category 5 storm stuck on Labor Day, killing 408 people. Witnesses reported that the wind was so strong that blowing sand literally shredded the clothes from their bodies.
  5. Hurricane Donna – This 1960 storm still holds the record for sustaining hurricane force winds through Florida, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England. It caused 13-foot surges in the Keys and 11-foot surges along the southwest coast.
  6. Hurricane Cleo – In 1964, Cleo struck the Miami area, cutting power and causing at least 24 separate fires. It destroyed one quarter of the grapefruit crop, delayed the opening of Florida Atlantic University, and caused the Fort Lauderdale News to miss publication for the only time in its history.
  7. Hurricane Andrew – This 1992 storm is the second costliest storm in U.S. history. It killed 23 people and caused $25 billion in damages.
  8. Hurricane Charley – When this Category 4 storm struck in 2004, this hurricane was the strongest to hit Florida since the legendary Hurricane Andrew. Meteorologists originally thought it would strike Tampa, but instead it hit Northwest Florida near Port Charlotte, catching many residents off guard. The hurricane killed 10 people and caused $13 billion in damage across the state.
  9. Hurricane Frances – Just three weeks after Charley, Frances ripped through the state. Though it caused much less damage than its predecessor, Frances was legendary for its size – it covered the entire state.
  10. Hurricane Wilma – The most recent of the major hurricanes struck in 2005, causing $16.8 billion in damages. The storm particularly impacted Broward and Palm Beach Counties and did significant damage to the Broward County Courthouse, the School Board Building, and taller downtown office buildings.

The last of the major storms occurred eight years ago, and many Floridians are holding their breath moving into the true peak of hurricane season. They wonder if our luck has held out too long and if we are due for another storm of epic proportions. While we all hope to enjoy these periods of unusual calm for a bit longer, we are aware that, after the destruction itself, one of the most stressful aspects of a hurricane is fighting with insurance companies who deny property owners’ rightful damage claims. We at Lawlor, Winston, White, and Murphey want Florida citizens to know that if a storm does hit, we will be here for them, ready to fight even the biggest insurance companies that deny their damage claims after a hurricane.

About the Author:

John Lawlor and the Fort Lauderdale FL Accident Attorney at his firm have been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients. Mr. Lawlor has been specifically recognized by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, listed with an AV-Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”

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