97. 1909 & 1910 Hurricanes

Historic Marker number 97 located in front of the National Weather Station at the corner of White and United Streets.

The history of tropical storms and hurricanes has shaped the growth of Key West since its inception in 1822. In 1909 and 1910, two of the strongest hurricanes ever experienced in the Florida Keys struck Key West. Both major hurricanes struck in October of successive years and were rated as a category 3 to 4 storm.

Hurricane season in Key West runs from June through November. The peak of the season occurs during August.

Storm strength is measured on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It uses a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. The scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage.

In 1909, a hurricane formed in the Southwest Caribbean Sea and passed over the western tip of Cuba, killing five people, before hitting Key West in the early hours of October 11th.

Key West inhabitants and mariners were ill prepared for the storm. There was no advanced warning system at the time and mariners relied on monitoring wind speed, cloud formation, and barometer readings to predict what inclement weather they would encounter.

The storm arrived as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 115mph inundating Key West with 14 inches of wind driven rain for 8 hours. On land it took the lives of two sailors and destroyed 400 residential, government, business, and military buildings. Many of the buildings were blown off their foundations, collapsed from the battering winds or were washed away. Every dock in the city was badly damaged with several being almost totally destroyed. Ships and boats of every kind were jammed together or sunken along the water front. Many boats broke from their moorings crashing into other boats and docks or sank in shallow waters outside of the harbor. The number of ships lost at sea is unknown.

The back to back hurricanes of 1909 and 1910 were quite severe for the Keys. They played havoc with the construction of Flagler's Over-sea Railway resulting in 15 deaths of construction workers in the 1909 storm.

Estimates of overall damage in Key West were set at one million dollars in 1909 currency.