Readers: With hurricane season here, and memories still fresh from last year’s onslaught, it’s time to revisit the subject with some questions we have fielded about past hurricanes.
Q: What was the last hurricane to strike Palm Beach County before 2004?
A: When Irene came across the county in 1999, it had hurricane winds, but they stayed offshore. David, which ruined the 1979 Labor Day weekend, officially had winds just below hurricane strength, but meteorologists estimate some parts of the county did get hurricane-force winds.
Q: What was the last big hurricane to strike Palm Beach County?
A: Believe it or not, it’s been more than a half-century since the county suffered a major hurricane, with winds of 111 mph or more. That was in 1949. Highest sustained winds reported in Palm Beach County in last summer’s storms did not reach even Category 2 (96-plus mph) during either Frances (80 mph in Jupiter) or Jeanne (60 mph in Lake Worth).
Q: Does Palm Beach County historically suffer from hurricanes’ storm surge?
A: Of all the Atlantic seaboard, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are the least vulnerable to storm surge because 17 miles offshore of Palm Beach, the ocean drops to thousands of feet. The deep water dissipates most of the tremendous energy carried in storm-driven water before it comes onshore. Another reason our coastline is least affected is a ridge that rises 25 feet above sea level close to or along the coast in much of the three counties. “Least” is a relative term; storm surge still could cause up to $3 billion in losses, force more than 140,000 people from their homes, and leave nearly 30,000 homeless. But most areas west of the coast would suffer virtually no surge, even in the most catastrophic storm.
National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov
Read More: Florida’s Hurricane History, by Jay Barnes