Tag Archives: Florida Hurricane of 1928

The Tidal Waves of Lake Okeechobee, “Seiches,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

NASA aerial Lake Okeechobee, Florida, with text, JTL.
NASA aerial Lake Okeechobee, Florida, with text, JTL.

A tidal wave….always a scary thought, and usually associated with the ocean, however, tidal waves or “seiches,” can occur in enclosed bodies of water as well, such as a lake— like that of “big water,” or Lake Okeechobee.

As we have entered hurricane season and live in Florida, the most vulnerable state in the nation for strikes, it is important that all of us in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/Lake Okeechobee region know our evacuation plan should one be necessary….

(http://floridadisaster.org/PublicMapping/index.htm)

A while back, I wrote about my frightening experience with a storm in the proximity of Lake Okeechobee and my friend, Dr Gary Goforth, wrote me back. Today I will share his thoughts on the subject of “tidal waves” in Lake Okeechobee.

Since “we” first walled the lake for agriculture in the 1920s, “white man” has changed the dynamics of both water and of storms….Recently, the ACOE has spent over 65 million dollars to repair the aging dike. As you know, nature evolved so Lake Okeechobee’s overflow waters would slowly flow south to the Everglades. This is no more, and her overflow waters are directed with great destruction through the Northern Estuaries…

So now about seiches…..or tidal waves…..

EAA below Lake Okeechobee, public image.
EAA A.K.A. Everglades Agricultural Area, below Lake Okeechobee, public image.
S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.
S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.(JTL, 2015)
Lake Okeechobee is tremendous in size. One cannot see across to the other side. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, S.Engebretsen pilot, 2014.)
Lake Okeechobee is tremendous in size, 730 square miles. It was once closer to 1000 aware miles before it was diked for agriculture use around and south of the lake. When looking across, one cannot see across to the other side. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, S. Engebretsen pilot, 2014.)

History & Today/Herbert Hoover Dike: (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/HerbertHooverDike.aspx)

Tidal wave art public domain, altered JTL.
Tidal wave art public domain, altered JTL.

 

FROM DR GARY GOFORTH (http://garygoforth.net)

Jacqui–

Your comments on the “tidal waves” within the Lake inspired me to chart the fluctuations in water levels in the Lake resulting from the 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne…

The attached images below show two charts and a reference map.

The first chart shows the fluctuation in Lake stage as Hurricane Frances slowly moved through the area and the 2nd is a similar chart for Hurricane Jeanne. An interesting feature is that as the storm approached the Lake, strong north winds blew the water to the southern rim against the HHDike (as reflected by the rising red line: water level along the south shore) and simultaneously moved water away from the northern sections of the Dike (as reflected by the descending blue line: water level along the north shore). This phenomenon contributed to the catastrophic flooding south of the Lake in the 1926 and 1928 storms as the muck dike failed. For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the south shore rose by more than 5 ft as the eye approached!

As the eye of the storms passed over the Lake, the wind quickly changed direction and the water that was piled up along the south shore moved to the north rim of the Dike (rising blue line). For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the north shore rose by 10 ft or more when the winds shifted! For Hurricane Jeanne, which was moving faster than Frances, the water level on the north shore rose by more than 4 ft per hour – I suspect it looked like a slow-moving tidal wave coming towards the Dike!

For both storms, the water levels overtopped the stage gauges at both stations – so the fluctuations were actually greater than depicted in the charts!

For more information, you can read up on Lake seiches  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiche) which are large waves sloshing back and forth in large bodies of water. 

—Gary, Dr Goforth 4/15

 

Chart Dr Gary Goforth, 2015.
Chart 1 Dr Gary Goforth, 2015.
Dr Gary Goforth chart,, 2015.
Dr 2 Gary Goforth chart, 2015.
Dr Gary Goforth 2015.
Dr Gary Goforth, 3. 2015.

Thank you Dr Goforth for an interesting lesson. Let’s all be safe and smart this hurricane season.

My niece Evie stands at the manicured edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)
My niece, Evie, stands at the edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)

Sugar, the Indian River Lagoon, and the Changing Hurricane Winds of 1928

Historical marker of mass burial site, 1928 hurricane, Indiantown, near Port Mayaca. (Photo by Evie Flaugh)

Historical marker of mass burial site for  Florida’s 1928 hurricane, near Port Mayaca, Indiantown. (Photo by Evie Flaugh)

If you drive west from Stuart, on Highway 76  towards Port Mayaca,  you’ll eventually see a large graveyard on the left hand side of the road. It is well kept and reminiscent of an old Florida, a Florida of pioneers, the Klu Klux Clan, and the Indian Wars. Large oak trees line the property and the unusually massive grave stones stand like sentinels to a time long past.

At the entrance is a memorial sign dedicated to the approximately 3000 people who were killed in the Florida hurricane of 1928. An earthen dike, barely holding back the waters that had naturally flowed south for thousands of years, breeched, killing mostly black agricultural migrant workers, while flooding sugar, vegetable farms, and personal property built in the  path of the natural flow way south of the lake. Thousands of bodies were  laboriously  buried in mass graves, one in Martin and another in Palm Beach County. (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/okeechobee)

African American, Etonville writer, Zora Neale Hurston, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston) writes in her classic novel, Their Eyes were Watching God, about migrant workers “looking back” as they were running to escape the furry of the 1928 hurricane. 

“Above all the drive of the wind and the water…and the lake. Under its multiplied roar could be heard the almighty sound of grinding rock and timber and a wail….people trying to run in raging waters and screaming…The monstropolous beast had left his bed. The two hundred miles an hour winds has looses his chains. The sea was walking the earth, with a heavy heel.”

All work for blacks during the late 1920s was difficult and filled with the prejudice and hardship of the Jim Crow Laws. In the sugar industry  there were complaints of “controlling” black harvest labor, aided by law enforcement, debt peonage, forced labor and even killings.

Today when people speak about the hurricane of 1928, the death of the workers south of the lake is credited as the source for pushing for “flood protection.”  This is not full disclosure. 

The truth of the matter is that the storm was also an opportunity for the struggling sugar industry, south of Lake  Okeechobee, not only to “protect” their poorly treated laborers, but to rally local, state and national government officials to support legislation to “invest” in  the area against future flooding for the benefit of their fields, and the future riches of the industry.  (Source Raining Cain in the Glades, Hollister, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo5704198.html)

This was no easy feat and insanely expensive in a time around the U.S. Great Depression. Politicians and businessmen were creative and put emphasis the  Okeechobee Waterway for “navigation, “rather than focusing solely on “flood protection.” At the time, navigation funds were much easier to get from the federal government than funds for “drainage” or flood control of the newly created Okeechobee Flood District.

These funds came to fruition in the construction of the  “Cross State Canal,” also known as  the “Okeechobee Waterway, “which links the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee,  to the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon and conveniently doubles as a giant drainage canal for the sugar industry, diverting as much a 92% of the flow of water south of Lake Okeechobee.  

You may have seen an arch in Rio that says “Gateway to the Atlantic.” That arch was built in celebration of he Cross State Canal…

Local people at the time had no of idea the greater repercussions of such to their greatest local resource, the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon. We still sit open mouthed today when S-308 at Port Mayaca is opened by the Army Corp of Engineers, and our area’s river resources are destroyed. Certainly we have our own local canal and runoff problems, but Lake Okeechobee’s tremendous waters, all the way from Orlando, are most destructive. 

It’s exhausting. The Cross State Canal was completed  in 1937, and we in Martin County have been fighting ever since, the changing winds of Florida’s hurricane of 1928.