Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

On September 1, 1935, storm warnings were posted for all of south Florida, including the Keys.

This was on Sunday, the day before Labor Day. Miamians wasted little time in beginning the task of boarding up, while down in the Keys the natives observed a ritual they had followed for generations. Boats were moved into sheltered coves and storm shutters were nailed over windows. Women cooked extra meals and sealed them in jars or put them to simmer on the backs of their stoves. Candles were rounded up and lamps were filled and their wicks were trimmed. Many lamps would remain unlighted and meals untouched, for out in the Atlantic was the most vicious hurricane North America has ever known.

When it was obvious on Monday that this storm would hit the Keys, a call was sent out near noon on Monday for the evacuation train. Perhaps because of the holiday or, possibly, no definite plans had ever been made, no train was waiting and ready at the town of Homestead. A call had to be relayed to Miami for one to be dispatched. It was five in the afternoon before a train finally left Homestead and began backing along the single track that stretched across the Everglades and down into the islands.

The day was even more terrifying. What became known as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 cleared every tree and every building off Matecumbe Key, and destroyed the railroad that connected the Florida Keys to the mainland.

The official death toll was 423 - 164 civilians and 259 World War I veterans living in three federal rehabilitation camps.

"There were so many dead people and no place to take them," said Russell, who was 17 when the hurricane hit. "They stacked them up and burned them."

Looking at the facts behind this storm, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was the first ever Category Five Hurricane on record to hit the United States. It held the distinction of being the only Cat Five storm to hit the United States coastline for 34 years until Hurricane Camille roared ashore in August, 1969. Nevertheless, it still does hold the distinction of being the most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States. Forming on August 29th, 1935, this monstrous hurricane was only the second named storm of the 1935 season, which was overall a fairly quiet season by most standards with six named storms the entire year. Five of those storms went on to become hurricanes, and three of them became major hurricanes of Category Three strength or better on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. In addition, there was one Category Two Hurricane that year as well.

The Labor Day Hurricane, which was the longest lasting storm of 1935 with a duration of 13 days, was a very small storm, on the order of Hurricane Andrew, which also had a similar path. Andrew moved just to the north of the Labor Day Hurricane's track when both storms were near Florida while the Labor Day Hurricane hooked to the north much sooner than Andrew did. The storm actually made two landfalls, both in Florida.

The 1935 Labor Day hurricane was the strongest tropical cyclone during the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, and one of the most intense landfalling U.S. hurricanes in recorded American history. The second tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and second intense hurricane of the season marked the most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the United States; and it was the first of three Category 5 hurricanes the United States endured during the 20th century (the other two being 1969's Hurricane Camille and 1992's Hurricane Andrew). After forming as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas on August 29, it slowly proceeded westward and became a hurricane on September 1. Prior to striking the upper Florida Keys on September 2, it underwent rapid intensification. After landfall, it continued northwest along the Florida west coast, weakening prior to landfall near Cedar Key on September 4.