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 Michael on October 10-11, 2018. The previous "hurricane of reference" that many people associate with is Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Additionally, the region has been hit by many hurricanes over the last 170+ years, including four major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricanes. Even hurricanes that make landfall in places such as Pensacola, Panama City, among other places, can be felt here (e.g. Dennis '05, Ivan '04, Opal '95, Michael '18).
Statistically, hurricanes directly impact Tallahassee on average once every eight years (22 hurricanes in the last 171 years). However, we know from historical hurricane climatology that the frequency of storms comes in multi-decade 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.
|Year||Storm||Maximum Sustained Wind||Maximum Wind Gust||Maximum Rainfall||Impact Summary|
|Hurricane Michael||44 mph||71 mph||
3.34 inches (TLH Airport)
3.56 (Tallahassee Mall area)
|Trees down on campus. 90% of the city-county without power for up to a week. Numerous trees and power lines down throughout community making commuting almost impossible.|
|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 campus.|
|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|
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.|
|1894||Not Named||(Cat. 3)|
|1877||Not Named||(Cat. 3)|
|1851||Not Named||(Cat. 3)||Completely 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 micro-bursts or down-bursts 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.