The Labor Day Storm of 1935

Track of Labor Day Hurricane
Track of Labor Day Hurricane

August 29, 1935 a relatively nondescript tropical disturbance was identified east of the central Bahamas. The disturbance began to slowly organize as it moved in a west southwesterly direction. The tropical storm approached Andros Island, churning over the warm Atlantic waters at 11 mph. Early reports suggested the storm would pass south of Key West. Sunday, September 1, the storm underwent significant changes.

The tropical system began to slow as it fed on the warm water; it also began to turn. By 1 p.m., the storm’s 84 mph winds were swirling about 200 miles away from Islamorada. By 7 p.m., the storm had slowed to a 5 mph crawl and wind speeds had increased to 104 mph. The hurricane was located approximately 160 miles away from Islamorada.

Twelve hours later a faster and stronger storm was only about 100 miles away from the Upper Keys. The hurricane was moving at 12 mph and packing 140 mph winds as it continued to approach the islands. As of 1 p.m. on Monday, Labor Day, the now Category 5 hurricane was 80 miles southeast of Islamorada.

Etta Parker Sweeting, who owned a grocery store on Upper Matecumbe with her husband Eddie (where the Island Villa Properties stands today at Mile Marker 82) said, “The wind started about one or two o’clock in the afternoon. Eddie and I went to the post office to see if there was any mail for the business, the grocery store. When we came back we slowed down in front of the store and the paper was being peeled off of the roof. That’s how hard it was already blowing.”

The eye of the storm crossed Lower Matecumbe Key to the north and Long Key to the south. The storm struck the Keys with an estimated 200 mph winds and a storm surge of 18-feet along the Matecumbe keys. The storm’s destruction was concentrated within a 40-mile wide swath stretching between Tavernier to the north and Vaca Key to the south. Barometric readings reached a record breaking 26.35 inches. The Great Labor Day Storm of 1935 is still considered the most powerful storm to ever strike North America.