Storm of the Century The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

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Storm of the Century

  • The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

  • Presented by Anne McKenzie

August 29-September 10, 1935

  • The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 affected the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Big Bend, Florida Panhandle, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.

  • This unnamed (other than the Labor Day reference) hurricane is the third worst hurricane on record, with Wilma (2005) being number one and Gilbert (1988) number two.

The Down Low

  • With no satellite imagery or radar warning, The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 went virtually undetected until it hit the Florida Keys.

  • Ship reports were the most valuable tool for hurricane spotting at the time, but most vessels would head for safer waters or harbor when big storms arose.

  • This hurricane was the first Category Five hurricane to hit the United States’ coastline, the second being Camille, thirty-four years later.

  • The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 still holds the dubious distinction of being the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States.

  • Although its intensity had diminished, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was still a Category One Hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson Scale) over a week after striking the Keys when it was beyond the Canadian Maritimes and heading into the much colder waters of the North Atlantic.

Storm’s Path

  • With one minute sustained winds of 160 mph, this hurricane started in the waters of the Bahamas. After the storm had demolished the Keys, it then turned northward, and made a second landfall in Florida's Big Bend area. Then it spread heavy rains and wind into the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic United States as it killed several more people. In all, the storm claimed about 400 lives although some South Florida papers of the period, such as the Miami Tribune, stated that as many as 1,000 perished in the powerful storm.

Storm’s effect on the Keys

  • Over a distance of about 30 miles, from the settlement of Tavernier to Vaca Keys, the destruction of buildings, roads, viaducts, and bridges was devastating. Much of this damage was caused by the overwhelming depth and strong washing flow of the storm tide that piled up on the Keys under the driving power of the storm. The tracks of the Florida East Coast Railroad were completely destroyed where they crossed between islands and were shifted bodily off their roadbed over long stretches on the Keys. An 11-car train, sent to Lower Matecumbe Key in an effort to rescue inhabitants, was washed from the tracks and only the locomotive withstood the force of wind and tide.

Pressure and Other Statistics

  • Formed 8/29/35 and dissipated 9/10/35.

  • Category Five

  • Lowest pressure=892 mbar

  • Fatalities=408-600 direct

  • Wind estimated from 160 mph up to 200 mph

  • Damage of six million dollars (1935 USD)

  • Today would equal $94 million (2009 USD)

  • Storm surge of eighteen to twenty feet

  • In the movie Key Largo (1948), Lionel Barrymore describes his experiences in this hurricane to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (Edward G. Robinson plays the antagonist)

Photos of Damage

More photos of damage

Vet’s Camp Before and After

  • World War I vets had labor camps in Lower Matecumbe Key.

  • The vets were working as Government Relief workers, building a road-bridge in the upper keys.

  • 259 veterans were killed

Monument to the Storm of the Century

  • Standing just east of mile marker 82 in Islamorada (purple island in Spanish), near where Islamorada's post office had been, is a simple monument by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Unveiled in 1937 with more than 4,000 people in attendance, a frieze depicts palm trees amid curling waves, fronds bent in the wind. In front of the sculpture, a ceramic tile mural of the Keys covers a stone crypt, which holds victims' ashes from the makeshift funeral pyres. The memorial was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1995.

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