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Hurricane History: Direct Hit Apalachee Bay

Last year we were lucky. July 10 of this year that luck ran out for Franklin and Wakulla Counties as Hurricane Dennis' 12-foot storm surge roared ashore, damaging or destroying everything in its path.

Butch Baker, Franklin County Emergency Manager, says, "When Dennis came across the Gulf it tracked right along the edge of the continental shelf, and so when it pushed water, it had nowhere to go except up."

The storm made landfall more than 150 miles to our west. It would have easily been much, much worse if Dennis directly slammed into Apalachee Bay. This begs the question: just how many hurricanes have made a direct or near direct hit on the bay?

There have been just a handful of storms. Kate was the most recent in 1985, then you'd have to go back to 1941, and before that, 1877. Perhaps the worst season for us was in 1886 when two hurricanes made a direct hit on our area in June. Of these storms only the October 1877 hurricane was of category three intensity, and it made landfall in Gulf County, not directly into Apalachee Bay. All other hurricanes were of category two intensity or less.

So why have those hurricanes weakened as they approached the coast? Florida's state meteorologist Ben Nelson says that the answer lies in the water temperature.

Ben explains, "We do have typically some cooler waters, at least slightly cooler waters that reside right along our coastal areas, so a lot of times we have very intense hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico that come our way and weaken just below category three strength just before landfall."

Whether it's those slightly cooler waters or otherwise, history has been a good friend to us. The future may not be as hospitable.


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