Our Most Powerful Hurricane, St Lucie River/IRL

“Let’s put it this way, if we get a ’40s-style hurricane, people here will forget all about Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Compared to the ’40s, those storms were like breezes.”

~Jay Barnes, author of the 1998 book, Florida’s Hurricane History as quoted in Palm Beach News Daily.

With all the talk of hurricanes this year, and people still shook up from Hurricane Irma, I asked my mother what year held the record as Stuart’s strongest storm along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

I knew about historic hurricanes that hit the Treasure Coast in 1933, 1947, and 1949 but was unsure. My mother’s answer, without a doubt: “the Hurricane of August 26, 1949.”

During this time, storms were unnamed and of course there was not today’s technology or communications. The storm is recorded to have had Category 4 winds (130-156 mph) when it struck the Florida Coast near West Palm Beach. That put Stuart on the northeast side of the storm receiving the highest winds, and records show gusts much higher.

Mary Jones, the director of Stuart Heritage, has a primary source regarding this storm with some amazing numbers. The source is an envelope from the Garnett Rushing Early Collection. Mrs Rushing was from a pioneer family and this is what is written on the envelope as the hurricane tore through Stuart in 1949.

“Lost over Lake Okeechobee. Hurricane 1949. Grady Norton. Stuart Airport Barometer broke at 210 M.P.H. winds exceeded 230 M.P.H. Miami Weather Bureau reported the this hurricane went to sea over  an unpopulated area between West Palm Beach and Ft Pierce.”

Grady Norton, was the “first director” of the National Hurricane Center. It is believed he wrote the notes on the envelope or perhaps they were notes taken by the Rushing family while he broadcast? In any case, the numbers are literally “off the chart,” (gusts at 201/230MPH!!!) and at that time it is almost amusing to note that Stuart was referred to as “an unpopulated area between West Palm Beach and Ft Pierce.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grady_Norton)

Well, Stuart is not an “unpopulated” area today, and as historian hurricane author James Barnes notes: ” If we get another 40s style hurricane, people will forget about Frances, Jeane, Wilma (and certainly he would add Irma’s visit to Stuart) –compared to the 1940s, those storms were just breezes.”

There is to be a presentation on Stuart’s historic hurricanes, Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Flagler Place, 201 SW Flagler Ave.(http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com)

An envelope from Stuart Heritage’s collection. The envelope is  from the Garnett Rushing Early Collection courtesy of Stuart Heritage Museum Director, Mary Jones.
Photos from the 1949 Hurricane in Stuart, Florida, Mrs Sands. Archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

Newspaper articles from the archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Note Sally Eaton is Sally Schwartz.

1949 Hurricane Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow collection.

Atlanta Hurricane Season of 1949: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1949_Atlantic_hurricane_season

Historic Palm Beach Blog: http://historicpalmbeach.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2011/08/22/this-week-in-history-last-major-hurricane-hits-palm-beach-county/

Palm Beach County History On-line: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/hurricane-timeline

Palm Beach News Daily:http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/palm-beach-has-long-history-weathering-hurricanes/C9mKKw1d0uyq6EiCznfAYP/

National Geographic What Made Patricia the Most Powerful Hurricane Ever? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/151023-patricia-hurricane-strongest-history-weather-atmosphere/

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