The Five Most Memorable Hurricanes to Hit South Florida, According to Bryan Norcross

Aftermath of the great Miami hurricane of 1926.EXPAND
Aftermath of the great Miami hurricane of 1926.

Chances are, if you look out your window while reading this, the sky is gray and ugly. Clouds are gathering, and your drive home tonight might be made more exciting with some rain droplets falling onto your windshield. It's hurricane season in Miami, and with that comes plenty of unwanted rain, tropical storm warnings, and (God forbid) actual hurricanes. 

Storms generally suck, and because we're adults, there's no calling out of work for a little drizzle. Throughout the years, Florida has seen its fair share of an unhappy Mother Nature. But no one has experienced hurricanes quite like one man, Bryan Norcross. The meteorologist rose to fame after his coverage of 1992's Hurricane Andrew, and he continues to be a leading voice in the weather business. 

New Times spoke to Norcross about the most memorable hurricanes to hit South Florida in all of his years living in Miami. 

Hurricane Katrina, 2005EXPAND
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

5. Hurricane Katrina, 2005
"Hurricane Katrina formed right offshore in the Bahamas," Norcross says. "This storm was another real lesson because it hit right on the Dade/Broward line as a hurricane. Most of the damage ended up being in South Dade from this tremendous amount of flooding — there was nearly two feet of rain in some parts. There was wind damage too over the 836 that was under construction. The storm blew over and blocked the road with debris. It was decently well forecast, but people were surprised because they didn't think it could strengthen so quickly, and it strengthened right offshore and then hit... I remember being on CBS News and saying that this had all the markings of a historic hurricane. Little did I know what was going to happen there in New Orleans and Mississippi."

Hurricane Irene, 2011
Hurricane Irene, 2011
Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

4. Hurricane Irene, 1999
"One that was a big surprise was Hurricane Irene in 1999. And the thing that was such a surprise about it was that in Broward County, they told everyone to go to work even though we had this hurricane out there, but it just didn't look that bad," Norcross recalls. "And so what ended up happening was this tremendous rainstorm. Winds were never superstrong, but there was this huge flood, and because the rain made the soil so wet and the wind was so persistent at 40 to 50 mph, it took down all these trees. So you had all these people who were out in the middle of this because others played it down, and then they ended up driving into ditches, trapped outside, and others died because they went out walking their dogs and a lot of power lines were down. Again, it was this big surprise event that we learned a lot from."

This is how NASA tracks a superstorm.EXPAND
This is how NASA tracks a superstorm.
Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

3. Hurricane Floyd, 1999
"Also in 1999, there was Hurricane Floyd, and it was this monster, mega, unbelievable, textbook disastrous hurricane," the meteorologist says. "It was heading right for Miami at a Category 5 — a massive storm reminiscent of the Miami hurricane of 1926 that if it were to happen again, it would be the worst hurricane in the history of the United States by far. It was heading right for Miami, but the forecast was for it to turn. But on television, you had this huge hurricane — much bigger than all of South Florida — coming directly at the city even when the forecast said it was supposed to turn to the north. So there was this tremendous amount of angst in the community because what you saw with your eyes versus the forecast was scary. That was a difficult one to communicate. The mayor at the time, Alex Penelas, was very good. He and I talked about how to communicate this a number of times, and he was terrific at talking about 'the threat' on television... Sure enough, the hurricane turned, and it ended up being a big problem in North Carolina in the end." 

Views from space during a typical hurricane.
Views from space during a typical hurricane.
Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2. Hurricane Wilma, 2005
"Hurricane Wilma was a large hurricane in terms of the size of the storm, but it was much weaker [than Hurricane Andrew," Norcross explains. "It was significant in many ways because it was so much more of a surprise. People were trapped with the idea that it was only a Category 2 and would think, How bad could it be? Yet large parts of Broward County and Palm Beach County and Brickell Avenue were just damaged beyond what anybody could image."

Hurricane Andrew, 1992EXPAND
Hurricane Andrew, 1992
via NOAA

1. Hurricane Andrew, 1992
"By far, the most significant event was Hurricane Andrew," Norcross says, "even though Hurricane Andrew was small and really only dramatically affected South Dade... As significant as it was, there were people in the northern part of Dade County and Broward County that could come help right away. That was still the most significant event even though it was small in terms of the size of the storm."


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