1928 Okeechobee Hurricane

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1928 Okeechobee Hurricane
Hurricane San Felipe Segundo
Path of the hurricane

Path of the hurricane
Duration Sept. 6 - 20, 1928
Highest winds 160 mph (260 km/h) sustained
Damages $800 million (2005 dollars)
Fatalities 4,075+
Areas affected Guadaloupe, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina
Part of the 1928 Atlantic hurricane season

The Okeechobee Hurricane or San Felipe Segundo Hurricane was a deadly hurricane that struck Guadaloupe, Puerto Rico, and southern Florida in September 1928. The hurricane killed at least 4,075 people and caused around 100 million dollars (1928 dollars) in damages over the course of its path. It was the first Category 5 hurricane ever officially recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.



The storm formed as a Cape Verde-type hurricane off the coast of Africa. Hurricane analysis in the 1990s found that the storm probably formed on September 6. It was first sighted in the tropics on September 10.

Impact in the Caribbean

Storm path
Storm path

On September 12 the hurricane passed by Guadaloupe where it killed 600-1200. It then moved over the Leeward Islands, doing particular damage to the Virgin Islands.

On September 13 the storm struck Puerto Rico directly as a Category 5 hurricane, allegedly packing winds of 160 mph (255 km/h). Official reports put the death toll as 312 and damages at USD $50 million (1928 dollars). It is remembered as the San Felipe Hurricane because the eye of the cyclone made landfall on the Christian feast day of Saint Phillip; the Latin American custom, since the Spanish colonial era began in 1492, was to name these storms upon their arrival after Catholic religious feast days. It was named "Segundo" (Spanish for "the Second") because of the eerie similarity in devastation with another hurricane which made landfall in Puerto Rico on that very same day 52 years earlier.

Next it passed over the Bahamas where it claimed another 18 lives. The official death toll throughout the Caribbean is 1,575.

Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands reported a pressure of 27.76 inHg (940 mb). A ship just south of St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands reported a pressure of 27.50 inHg (931 mb). In Puerto Rico, reliable reports from San Juan placed the windspeed at 125 knots (144 mph, 232 km/h), and a report from Guayama placed the pressure at 27.65 inHg (936 mb). Note that wind measurements from this period are often not reliable because measuring equipment would fail under the winds of a strong hurricane. Pressure measurements (measured at the time in inches of mercury) are considered reliable but most measurements are not taken from the eye of the storm.

Storm Deaths by Region
From [1] and [2].
United States Florida: 2500+
1575 total deaths
Puerto Rico: 312
Guadeloupe: 600-1200
Martinique: 3
Grand Turk Island: 18
Total: 4075+

Impact on Southern Florida

After leaving the Caribbean, the hurricane gained strength again as it moved toward Florida.

In the evening of September 16 the storm made landfall in southern Florida as a strong Category 4 hurricane. Atmospheric pressure at landfall was measured at 929 mb (hPa) and winds "in excess" of 150 mph (240 km/h) (but note all such measurements are suspect). The eye passed ashore in Palm Beach County. Damage along the coastline from the heavy winds and 10-foot storm surge was catastrophic; however the area was only sparsely inhabited at the time.

Aftermath of the hurricane in southern Florida
Aftermath of the hurricane in southern Florida

Inland, the hurricane wreaked much more widespread destruction along the more heavily populated coast of Lake Okeechobee. Residents had been warned to evacuate the low ground earlier in the day, but after the hurricane did not arrive on schedule many thought it had missed and returned to their homes. When the worst of the storm crossed the lake – with winds measured on the ground at around 140 mph (225 km/h) – the low pressure and south-blowing wind caused a storm surge to overflow the small dike that had been built at the south end of the lake. The resulting flood covered an area of hundreds of square miles with water that in some places was over 20 feet deep. Houses were floated off of their foundations and dashed to pieces against any obstacle they encountered. Most survivors and bodies were washed out into the Everglades where many were never found. As the rear eyewall passed over the area the flood reversed itself, breaking the dikes along the northern coast of the lake and causing a similar but smaller flood.

Approximate area of the flood
Approximate area of the flood

Floodwaters persisted for several weeks, greatly impeding attempts to clean up the devastation. Burial services were quickly overwhelmed and many of the bodies were placed into mass graves. Around 75% of the fatalities were migrant farm workers, making identification of both dead and missing bodies very difficult. As a result of this the count of the dead is not very accurate. The Red Cross estimated the number of fatalities as 1,836, which was taken as the official count by the National Weather Service for many years (older sources usually list 3,411 as the total count of fatalities, including the Caribbean). However in 2003 this was revised as "at least" 2,500, making the Okeechobee hurricane the second-deadliest natural disaster in United States history (after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900) (as of 2004).

Thousands of people were left homeless in Florida; property damage was estimated at $25 million (1928 dollars). It is estimated that if a storm like this were to strike today (in the year 2003) it would cause $18.7 billion in damages. However a levee breach of this kind is unlikely (but perhaps not impossible) to occur again because of the much larger Herbert Hoover Dike that now contains the waters of Lake Okeechobee.

Most intense landfalling U.S. hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Landfall pressure
1 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
2 Camille 1969 909 mbar (hPa)
3 Katrina 2005 918 mbar (hPa)
4 Andrew 1992 922 mbar (hPa)
5 Indianola 1886 925 mbar (hPa)
6 Florida Keys 1919 927 mbar (hPa)
7 Okeechobee 1928 929 mbar (hPa)
8 Donna 1960 930 mbar (hPa)
9 New Orleans 1915 931 mbar (hPa)
10 Carla 1961 931 mbar (hPa)
Source: U.S. National Hurricane Center

Racial Issues

Although the hurricane destroyed everything in its path with impartiality, the death toll was by far highest in the economically poor areas in the low-lying ground right around the lake. Around 75% of the fatalities were from migrant farm workers, most of whom were black. Yet it was black workers who did most of the cleanup, and the few caskets available for burials were mostly used for the bodies of whites. Other bodies were either burned or buried in mass graves. Burials were segregated and the only mass gravesite to receive a memorial contained only white bodies. The inequity has caused further racial friction that still exists today.


The hurricane's path turned northeast as it crossed Florida, taking it across northern Florida, eastern Georgia, and the Carolinas on September 19. It then moved inland and merged with a low-pressure system around Toronto on September 20.

See also

Sources and external links



  • Kleinberg, Eliot. (2003) Black Cloud: The Great Florida Storm of 1928. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0786711469
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