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Little-known Levy hurricanes

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By Toni C. Collins, Levy County Historian

Of all the recorded hurricanes to hit the United States since 1851, 36 per cent of them have made landfall in Florida. However, the state did have 18 hurricane seasons pass without a known storm impacting the state.
Although hurricane season officially opens on June 1 of each year, st the month of highest activity has historically been September followed by October and then August. Weather officials began using female names to identify hurricanes in 1953 and followed with males names in 1979. The Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring hurricane strength was created in 1975.
Much has been written about the 1896 hurricane which hit the Cedar Keys on Sept. 10, 1896. The intensity of the storm when it made landfall was 110 knots or a category 3 storm. The storm swept on through Levy County, ruining the cotton crops sitting in cribs and damaging individual truck gardens. Local residents were left without food and the County Commissioners sent a plea for help to the Disaster Relief Agency in Jacksonville.
The AME Church of Adamsville was blown over as was the Ft. White Methodist Church in Columbia County. The track of the storm continued northeast and passed out to sea along the Georgia coast.
However, some early storms which hit the Cedar Keys have gone virtually unnoticed. The Sept. 9, 1837, edition of The Floridian published in Tallahassee contained a small note that the Seahorse, an English brig of 73 tons, was lost in the Cedar Keys during a storm. The vessel was a total loss; the cargo consisting of cedar and mahogany.
The same storm, referred to as a gale, went on up the coast and hit St. Marks “without its parallel in the history of that place,” according to the newspaper article. The storm also ravaged Newport, Apalachicola, and as far up the Apalachicola River to the Town of Magnolia, ruining the cotton awaiting transport to market.
Another storm that hit the Cedar Keys occurred two months after the hostilities of the Second Seminole Indian War had ceased. According to military reports, during the night of Oct. 5, 1842, a powerful hurricane swept across the Gulf Coast. The officer in charge, Captain J.M. Hill stated that the water rose 27 feet on Depot Key, carrying everything before it. Seahorse Key did not suffer as much damage, perhaps because of its height. Following that storm, Captain Hill recommended that the islands be abandoned for military use.
Local historian Lindon Lindsey remembers how the Cedar Keys were buffeted by the fifth tropical storm of the season in July of 1936. Although the 145-knot storm continued on to hit the Panhandle, the water on 2nd Street was knee deep and there was a lot of damage.
At the time, the Lindsey family lived in a one-story house on 3rd Street between E and F Streets, one of the highest points on the island. When the government hurricane spotter plane flew over the Cedar Key dock and dropped the red flag attached to a block of wood, the system used to warned the residents a storm was close, many of the neighbors came to the Lindsey home for safety.
As the storm roared overhead, everyone crowded into the back bedroom of the house to try and escape the deafening noise. The group collectively held their breath as they watched the two-story house next door slide off its foundation and slowly slide toward the corner of the house where everyone was gathered. Miraculously the house next door came to rest within three feet of the Lindsey home.
Some of the older Cedar Key residents may remember the category 3 hurricane named “Easy” which roared ashore on Sept. 5, 1950, at 105-knots. It would be interesting to learn the background on the hurricane’s name.
Unlike the early days, today’s high technology gives advance notice of approaching storms to residents in harm’s way and directs them to move to safety. When the all clear is given, residents return to their homes, communities dig out, people repair and replace, and everyone does their best to return their lives to normal. Some regard the inconvenience as the price of living in paradise.