Tropical Storms & Hurricanes: History at FSU

History of Tropical Storms & Hurricanes at FSU

What is the history of tropical cyclones affecting Florida State University Main Campus in Tallahassee?

The most recent hurricane (not including tropical storms) to directly impact the Tallahassee area was Hurricane Hermine on September 1-2, 2016. The previous "hurricane of reference" that many people associate with is Hurricane Kate in 1985. Additionally, the region has been hit by many hurricanes over the last 170+ years, including three major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricanes. Even hurricanes that make landfall in places such as Pensacola, 175 miles from Tallahassee, can be felt here (e.g. Dennis '05, Ivan '04. Opal '95).

Statistically, hurricanes directly impact Tallahassee on average once every eight years (21 hurricanes in the last 171 years). However, we know from historical hurricane climatology that the frequency of storms comes in multi-decadal cycles where there will be long stretches between active periods of numerous storms. 

Tropical storms conditions are much more common than hurricanes conditions for our part of the state. Tropical storms strike on average once every 3.5 years (50 tropical storms in 171 years). The last tropical storm to directly impact Florida State University was Tropical Storm Debby in 2012.

The table below summarizes the tropical cyclone activity to have been felt on the Main Campus of Florida State University since Hurricane Kate in 1985, plus a few extra historical hurricanes.

Historical Hurricanes & Tropical Storms @ FSU - Tallahassee
Year Storm Maximum Sustained Wind Maximum Wind Gust Maximum Rainfall Impact Summary

2016
 
Hurricane Hermine 47 mph  64 mph 5.54 inches Campus-wide power outage for approximately 64 hours. Some trees down on campus. 80% of city-county without power for up to 1 week. Numerous trees and power lines down throughout community.
2012 Tropical Storm Debby 27.6 mph 36.8 mph 5.5 inches on campus. 15-25 inches in Leon/Wakulla counties Severe flooding in Wakulla County. No impacts on cmapus.
2009 Tropical Storm Claudette 25.3 mph 39.1 mph 2.1 in  
2008 Tropical Storm Fay 26.5 mph 26.5 mph 15.62 in $95,562 on campus damage. Widespread community flooding.
2006 Tropical Storm Alberto 34.6 mph 38 mph 3.25 in  
2005 Hurricane Dennis 38 mph 50.6 mph 6.64 in FSU Marine Lab damaged by storm surge.
2004 Tropical Storm Jeanne 33.4 mph 48.3 mph 1.21 in  
2004 Hurricane Ivan 38 mph 54.1 mph    
2004 Tropical Storm Frances 47.2 mph 59.8 mph 2.48 in  
2001 Tropical Storm Allison     10.13 in 1 fatality and 1 injury on campus due to flash flooding. Flash flooding throughout Tallahassee.
1998 Tropical Storm Georges 27.6 mph 33.4 mph 6.42 in  
1998 Tropical Storm Earl 33.4 mph 48.3 mph 5.41 in  
1996 Tropical Storm Josephine 28.8 mph 39.1 mph 7.79 in  
1995 Hurricane Opal 32.2 mph 63.3 mph 1.25 in  
1995

Tropical Storm Erin

31.1 mph 39.1 mph 0.80 in  
1985 Hurricane Kate 53 mph 87 mph approx. 3.00 in Many trees fell, landing on cars, houses, and power lines. Most people were without power for 5 days, and others were without it for up to 3 weeks. 
1972 Hurricane Agnes        
1966 Hurricane Alma        
1964 Hurricane Dora        
1953 Hurricane Florence        
1894 Not Named   (Cat. 3)    
1877 Not Named   (Cat. 3)    
1851 Not Named   (Cat. 3)   Completey defoliated the city and caused significant damage to most structures. Estimated $1.5 M in 2008 US Dollars

 

What was life like after Hurricane Kate hit Tallahassee and FSU in 1985?

As can be seen by the table above, Hurricane Kate in 1985 was the most significant tropical cyclone hit for Tallahassee and Florida State University in recent history. It was barely a hurricane when it passed through the capital city, with sustained winds of 53 miles per hour and hurricane wind gusts to 87 miles per hour. That is only a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. However, according to a government report on the storm, "Sporadic heavy wind damage throughout Gadsden and Leon County provided evidence of widespread microbursts or downbursts of localized higher wind gusts which may have reached 100 mph." Regardless, the impacts of Kate were widespread in Tallahassee.

While Category 1 hurricane winds did not cause major direct structural damage, the storm tore through the city's popular tree canopy. Simply put, Tallahassee has a lot of trees. Many of those trees, particularly tall pines, came crashing down everywhere. When they fell, they landed on homes, cars, roadways, and power lines. For a few days, it was nearly impossible to drive around anywhere with so many large trees blocking the roads.

The damage to the electrical infrastructure was equally widespread. Most people were without power for about 5 days, and there were others who did not see their service returned for 2-3 weeks.

The Florida State University campus received only minor damage to a few buildings. Oddly, the campus never lost power. The trees on campus at that time were not that large and did not impact the power lines. Yet, with the damage to the community around us, classes and events were cancelled and a 7 p.m. to dawn curfew was put into effect. Hurricane Kate made landfall on Thursday, November 21, 1985, just one week before Thanksgiving. Kate holds the record for the latest date in an Atlantic hurricane season for a hurricane to form and for a hurricane to make landfall in the U.S.

Other historical references online: GoogleWikipediaHurricane Kate: A Photo StoryHurricane Kate: One Silver Lining Remembered