This past month, we in Suwannee County (and indeed, most of Florida) dodged a bullet with Hurricane Dorian, but not everyone was so lucky. The Bahamas will probably take years to fully recover from the devastation wrought by that Category 5 hurricane. Fifty-five years ago this month, Suwannee County was feeling the full wrath of another hurricane beginning with the letter “D” and with a similar-sounding name…Dora.
The name “Dora” replaced “Donna” on the hurricane lists after that name was retired following the most powerful hurricane of the 1960 season, which had killed at least 364 people and caused approximately $900 million in damage. Hurricane Dora began as a tropical wave near the coast of Senegal, Africa, on Aug. 28, 1964. It became a tropical storm on Sept. 1 and began to strengthen as it marched across the Atlantic Ocean. Meteorologists expected the storm to move northwestward over open waters, following behind Hurricane Cleo that had moved through the area a few days before. However, Dora gradually turned westward on Sept. 6 and increased to its maximum wind speed of 130 mph winds, making it a Category 4 hurricane. Three days later, the hurricane turned southeastward before moving north for several hours; it then continued westward while making three distinct cyclonic loops.
On Sept. 10, the hurricane (then a Category 3 with 115 mph winds, although some sources believe that it may have been only a high Category 2) made landfall near St. Augustine, the first tropical cyclone on record to make landfall on the First Coast of Florida while a hurricane. Many communities in Florida felt the brunt of Dora as it made landfall. For instance, Jacksonville had more than 150,000 customers without electricity, and 1/5 of telephones were knocked out. Coastal areas and those along the St. Johns River were flooded. Power for Jacksonville and surrounding towns was out for six days. Despite the damage, the Beatles played at the Gator Bowl Stadium on Sept. 11, where 20,000 listened to them despite the lack of power and damage. Ringo Starr’s drums were nailed to the stage because of the still-high winds. American Beach, Fernandina Beach, Vilano Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, Flagler Beach, St. Augustine, Ocala, Gainesville, High Springs, Daytona Beach and several other communities suffered some flooding and damage.
The hurricane passed westward through Suwannee County in the vicinity of O’Brien and Branford; the County received a few inches of rain and little damage, but nothing to worry about. Life returned to normal in Suwannee County as the steadily-weakening Dora continued its western course. Weather forecasts indicated that the storm would continue to move away and further weaken, with no anticipated future issues to Suwannee County and northeast Florida. It appeared that Dora would be one of the many hurricanes and tropical events whose fury bypassed Suwannee County over the years. Unfortunately, it was not to be so…
More on Hurricane Dora next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.