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Remembering the Labor Day 1935 hurricane that struck the Florida Keys

Hermine was not the only hurricane to impact the U.S. over Labor Day. In 1935, a category 5 pummeled the Florida Keys, killing 408 people.

Surface analysis of the Labor Day 1935 hurricane by the U.S. Weather Bureau, which was the precursor to the National Weather Service. (Courtesy: NWS/NOAA)

Surface analysis of the Labor Day 1935 hurricane by the U.S. Weather Bureau, which was the precursor to the National Weather Service. (Courtesy: NWS/NOAA)

The system formed well before weather satellites were launched into space, so it is difficult to tell exactly when the initial stage of the tropical cyclone formed. However, the National Hurricane Center states that the system was first detected east of the Bahamas on August 29, 1935.

Labor Day 1935 Hurricane track (Source: National Hurricane Center)

Labor Day 1935 Hurricane track (Source: National Hurricane Center)

For the next four days, explosive development occurred. It made landfall in the Florida Keys on Monday, September 2 as a Category 5 hurricane. After that initial landfall, it curved northwest before making a second landfall near Cedar Key, Florida as a Category 2 hurricane on September 4.

From there, the system tracked northeast along the Georgia and Carolina coast line before exiting out to sea near Norfolk, Virginia.

Per the National Hurricane Center:

No wind measurements are available from the core of this small, but vicious hurricane. A pressure of 26.35 inches measured at Long Key, Florida makes this the most intense hurricane of record to hit the United States and the third most intense hurricane of record in the Atlantic basin (surpassed only by the 26.05 inches in Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and 26.22 inches observed in Hurricane Gilbert in 1988).

NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) features a detailed weather observation report submitted by J.E. Duane, a cooperative observer for the then U.S. Weather Bureau (the precursor to the National Weather Service):

Weather reports from J.E. Duane, cooperative observer for the Weather Bureau. (Courtesy: NWS/NOAA/AOML)

Weather reports from J.E. Duane, cooperative observer for the Weather Bureau. (Courtesy: NWS/NOAA/AOML)

Unfortunately, the hurricane claimed over 400 lives, the majority of which were veterans of World War 1 who were working on a railroad in south Florida.

According to an article about the Labor Day Hurricane written by W.F. McDonald for the Monthly Weather Review,

“The loss of life on the Keys was very heavy. Three populous relief work camps inhabited by war veterans were destroyed. The best estimate of mortalities, furnished by the American Red Cross, places the total at 409, of which number 244 are known dead and 165 missing.

The rescue of survivors was greatly hampered by lack of all means of communication and transport; but the Coast Guard promptly threw into the work 18 cutters, tugs, and patrol boats, 5 amphibians, and other facilities. The Red Cross and other public and private agencies of rescue were also promptly at work, so that the aftermath of fatalities from injuries and lack of supplies was held to a minimum.”