On Thursday, June 6, from 6 to 7 p.m., Key West Art & Historical Society presents Chip Kasper and Sandy Delgado, who will present “The 1919 Hurricane and its impacts in Key West” at the Custom House Museum (281 Front St.). The distinguished speakers will discuss the reverberations of this deadly storm, with a PowerPoint slideshow and images, photos and graphics to augment their presentation.
Though there was a Weather Bureau Office in Key West at that time, the first indication of a hurricane at sea usually came from a ship, says Kasper. “From what I have read, there was ‘preparedness’ to some degree, but the overall observational and forecasting capacity was not anything close to what we have in modern times,” he says.
The fourth in a series of deadly hurricanes (after the 1906, 1909 and 1910 hurricanes) that affected the Florida Keys during the early 20th century, the 1919 hurricane was particularly devastating. With wind speeds comparable to Hurricanes Irma (2017) and Georges (1998), damage to the island was a given.
“Storm surge flooding along south Stock Island likely was severe, as it probably was on the south side of Key West,” says Kasper.
But the most notable impact was the loss of the S/S Valbanera near Rebecca Shoal. “Around 400 people perished,” he says. “This likely is the greatest maritime disaster in Florida Keys history.”
The 1919 hurricane (and the three preceding it) led to the development of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Key West for protection against future hurricanes. Sister Louis Gabriel lived through those hurricanes and determined that the island would never experience the full brunt of a hurricane as long as the Grotto stood. And though Key West has had close calls, it has never had a direct hit.
Mr. Kasper is the meteorologist in-charge of the NOAA/Florida Keys National Weather Service Forecast Office in Key West. He has lived and worked as a meteorologist in Key West since 1999 and has worked nearly 30 tropical storms and hurricanes during the last two decades. Mr. Kasper holds a B.S. in meteorology from Florida State University.
Mr. Delgado is a meteorologist with the NOAA/ Florida Keys National Weather Service Forecast Office in Key West. Prior to joining the team in Key West, he worked at the National Hurricane Center for several years as a researcher involved with the Atlantic Hurricane Reanalysis Project. Mr. Delgado holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in meteorology from Florida International University.
Distinguished Speaker Series presentation tickets are $5 for KWAHS members, $10 for non-members, and are available at kwahs.org/events. Early ticket purchase is recommended. Sponsored by the Helmerich Trust and Southernmost Beach Resort. For more information, contact Society Director of Education Kristina Callaway at 305-295-6616, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island. ¦