With hurricane season here, and memories of Frances, Jeanne and Wilma still fresh, it’s time to revisit the subject with some questions I have fielded about past hurricanes.
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 for the recent storms: Frances, 80 mph (Jupiter); Jeanne, 60 mph (Lake Worth); Wilma, 81.7 mph (PBIA) and 103.5 mph (in Lake Okeechobee).
Q: Does Palm Beach County historically suffer from hurricanes’ storm surge?
A: On the entire Atlantic seaboard, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are the places least vulnerable to storm surge. That’s 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 isn’t as vulnerable is because there’s a ridge that rises 25 feet above sea level close to or along the coast in much of the three counties. “Least vulnerable” is relative, though; 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.
Readers: Palm Beach Past, a collection of 100 of the more than 300 “Post Time” columns which have appeared in this spot since January 2000, is being released this week by The History Press and will be available through book stores and online booksellers.
National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov
Read More: Florida’s Hurricane History, by Jay Barnes