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John Wheeler: Remembering the Okeechobee hurricane of 1928

The powerful storm created an inland storm surge that killed an estimated 1800 people in Florida.

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FARGO — One of the most tragic hurricane disasters in U.S. history happened 94 years ago this week. On Sept. 17, 1928, the terrible Okeechobee Hurricane hit southern Florida. The storm had already killed an estimated 1200 people on the Caribbean Island of Guadalupe, where it hit as a Category 5 storm, with wind speeds estimated at 160 mph. It also caused devastation across Puerto Rico.

It was in Florida where the real tragedy of this storm occurred. The storm hit Palm Beach with winds of 135 mph and then crossed Lake Okeechobee, a vast freshwater lake just north of the Everglades. Surrounded by weak, earthen levees, the powerful storm created an inland storm surge that killed an estimated 1800 people in Florida and washed away entire towns. That number is likely at least 700 too low, as hundreds of mostly black, Bahamian field laborers were buried in mass graves and went uncounted.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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