The hurricane, like so many others before and after, was supposed to make a turn and go to the northeast. It dangled off the Atlantic coast for the better part of 24 hours, trying to determine which way it wanted to go.
Finally, on Sept. 10, 1964, Hurricane Dora roared ashore, causing widespread damage in Jacksonville and becoming the only hurricane to strike northeast Florida in the 20th century.
The website at the Jacksonville Historical Society offers a detailed account of the events that occurred nearly 50 years ago: “The seas were 10 feet above normal. Many homeowners along the St. Johns were forced to flee to avoid the flooding.”
The storm originated near Cape Verde and moved westward across the Atlantic. It was initially believed the storm would head for New England, but a high-pressure system forced it on a more westward track.
“At this time Dora was a large hurricane,” the website continued. “Dora then slowed considerably before reaching land, and consequently the winds and tides increased slowly. The strong, long-duration, onshore winds produced unusually high tides along the entire coast.”
The eye of the storm made landfall near St. Augustine in the early morning hours of Sept. 10. At landfall, winds were estimated at 110 mph. Rain was very heavy in some places – 23 inches were dumped at Mayo Clinic – but only six inches fell in Jacksonville. However, the storm surge pushed the St. John’s River out of its banks, causing widespread flooding of many downtown properties.
After making landfall, Dora continued on its westward path. It made a hard turn to the north and back to the east in a 24-hour span, moving over southern Georgia and into South Carolina. But the storm wasn’t done toying with Jacksonville just yet, as the system returned about a week later.
“This time the winds were only at the tropical storm level,” the website reported. “But [the winds] confounded the recovery efforts.”
Power was out for six days. Damage was estimated at around $280 million. President Lyndon Johnson visited Jacksonville Sept. 11, and the city received more than $8 million in federal aid to help rebuild.
Despite all of the challenges, Jacksonville was still able to host a Beatles concert on the night of Sept. 10, just hours after the storm had passed. Power was supplied to the Gator Bowl through underground lines.
Dora was one of four hurricanes that would strike Florida in 1964, a pattern that would be repeated 40 years later, in 2004.
For more information on Hurricane Dora, visit the Jacksonville Historical Society’s website at: http://www.jaxhistory.com/journal5.html.