70th Anniversary of the “Homestead” hurricane

Track of the 1945 Homestead hurricane (Unisys)

Track of the 1945 Homestead hurricane (Unisys)

On the afternoon of September 15, 1945, a major hurricane made landfall in southern Florida, causing great destruction.  The storm roared up the middle of the peninsula, passing over Orlando.  An experimental Army radar station located near the city recorded the storm’s progress along this track, while a young Army lieutenant recorded the radar scope on movie film, creating the first time-lapse radar film.

The hurricane originally formed somewhere over the deep tropical Atlantic, but because of  a lack of Atlantic shipping in the early post-war period, even the general idea of where it became a tropical cyclone is not recorded.  It was first detected some 250 miles from the Leeward Islands, and a Hurricane Hunter plane was dispatched.  The crew found a fully formed hurricane.  As it passed north of Puerto Rico, the cyclone rapidly intensified into a major hurricane.  Over the next two days, it ravaged the Turks and Caicos and Bahama Islands on a steady northwesterly course.  By the morning of Sept. 15th, it had reached the Bahama Channel, and over the Gulf Stream its maximum sustained winds revved up to 130 mph (215 km/hr).  It struck Key Largo by 3:30 PM, then an hour later made its way over Homestead Army Air Base and Richmond Naval Air Station, the base for a fleet of submarine-hunting blimps that patrolled the sea lanes of the Gulf Stream to the east during the war.  During the height of the storm winds, a fire broke out in the blimp hangars and became an unmanageable conflagration that consumed the hangars and everything in them.

Dr. David Atlas (NAE)

Dr. David Atlas (NAE)

The storm began its recurvature over land and moved north toward the middle of the state.  Lt. David Atlas was manning an experimental radar station near Orlando and volunteered to remain on duty during the storm in order to record the radar scope on movie film, although he had reason to doubt the sanity of his choice the closer the hurricane came. But after the storm had passed, he had created the first time-lapse film of a hurricane.  This proved an invaluable resource in understanding the dynamics of hurricane rainbands and the evolution of tropical cyclones on an hourly time scale.

The hurricane eventually passed back out to sea near St. Augustine after having brought hurricane force winds to much of the state.  Only a few hours later, it made another landfall as a tropical storm over South Carolina.  It moved northward and became incorporated into a cold front.  It still managed to bring gale force winds to Philadelphia and caused high winds to the Canadian Maritimes.  In total, the hurricane killed 26 people and cause US$60 million in damage.

References:

Wexler, H. , “Structure of Hurricanes as Determined by Radar,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Vol. 48 Art. 8 (Sept. 15, 1947): pp. 821-844

This entry was posted in Observations and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 70th Anniversary of the “Homestead” hurricane

  1. If I recall correctly, I stuck it out for about 36 hours while the G.I. crew left me with a few sandwiches I had been sent to Orlando by then Captain Joseph Fletcher to select radasr for the Thunderstorm Project. I sent all the pictures to Hq. Air Weather Service. Subsequently, Harry Wexler (then a Major) wrote the paper without attribution. – I was not given the opportunity to review his paper. Years later Harry Wexlet and I became friends.

    • noaahrd says:

      We have a copy of the Army film in our archive. We had it digitized about ten years ago, but I can’t seem to find it.

    • Lew Fincher says:

      Dr. Atlas, I’m curious about a few thing… how did you feel being the first to view such a sight, the storm bearing down on you as you watched the scope,; feeling the building shudder as the first wind bands hit and become stronger as the Eye marched closer & closer. Today it is a common sight to experience, but back then, it was just you. Did the Army award you for your bravery and completing the assignment that I feel went well beyond your “normal” job description?

      As a hurricane historian it would greatly appreciate any leads to more on this storm, and especially your part of the story. I also hope that someone at NOAAHRD would dig up your film and make it public.

    • Lew Fincher says:

      Dr. Atlas, I’m curious about a few thing… how did you feel being the first to view such a sight, the storm bearing down on you as you watched the scope,; feeling the building shudder as the first wind bands hit and become stronger as the Eye marched closer & closer. Today it is a common sight to experience, but back then, it was just you. Did the Army award you for your bravery and completing the assignment that I feel went well beyond your “normal” job description?

      As a hurricane historian it would greatly appreciate any leads to more on this storm, and especially your part of the story. I also hope that someone at NOAAHRD would dig up your film and make it public.

  2. By the time this storm reached Connecticut where I would be born the following year, the hurricane probably weakened to either a tropical storm or even just a gale center. It must have been windy but I doubt the northeast had a severe impact from this storm.

Comments are closed.