Northeast Florida still remembers Hurricane Dora, the Category-2 hurricane that slammed into the coast at St. Augustine and Jacksonville 50 years ago. It was a slow-moving storm that pounded the coast for days.
With the 2014 Hurricane Season underway, officials with the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center recreated that massive storm in a hurricane exercise Wednesday to see how the county would handle the evacuation and cleanup process.
Hurricane Dora made its entrance to the Northeast part of Florida in 1964, and Jacksonville experienced its only hurricane-force winds in recorded history, clocking in at 82 mph. At its worst, Dora swirled winds of 125 mph on Anastasia Island with a storm surge that topped out at 12 feet in St. Augustine.
“Back then, we didn't have the dune line that we do today, so many areas just had seawalls; those seawalls were undermined,” said Al Sandrik, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service Jacksonville office. “A slow approach coming in from the Atlantic, like Dora, (creates) a very dangerous situation along the immediate beaches.”
Sandrik said the population in St. Johns County has grown tremendously since 1964, which makes a situation like Hurricane Dora even more dangerous now. Areas like St. Augustine, Davis Island and Summer Haven pose big concerns in terms of flooding.
He said rising water is the biggest threat from a hurricane, and that more people die from flood waters than they do from wind, which is why “knowing your evacuation zone” is so important.
St. Johns County has posted its new flood evacuation maps, so that residents can see what zone they're in and when it might be time for them to evacuate.
Sandrik said history is bound to repeat itself.
“We went into the Spanish archives, and what we found is that every 33 years or so, the St. Augustine area is impacted by a significant hurricane,” Sandrik said. “So really we've been lucky that it's been 50 years. You can look at it like we're overdue, but the fact of the matter is we do get storms that come in, they're just not as frequent as in other areas.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts the 2014 hurricane season will be below average or near normal, but that's only in terms of how many hurricanes — strength is another story.
“We've had major hurricanes hit the U.S. in relatively slow hurricane seasons,” said Michael Brennan, senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Hurricane Andrew in 1992 hit South Florida; Hurricane Hugo in 1989 hit Charleston; and that was in an era of relatively slow hurricane activity in the Atlantic compared to what we've seen now.”
Brennan said the National Hurricane Center is working on a new graphic that would show you what potential flooding would look like in certain areas. That graphic will be available starting next year.