Skip to main content

Times of the Islands Magazine

Ready Or Not: Hurricane season is here, getting a plan in place

Jun 26, 2017 01:49PM ● By Kevin

Her name was Donna when she barreled into Florida’s west coast on Sept. 10, 1960.

You may recall Hurricane Charley in 2004, Hurricane Wilma blasting ashore the following year.

But long before these 21st century storms came Category 4 Hurricane Donna, boasting her 92 mile-per-hour winds over Fort Myers and gusts to 150 mph. The National Hurricane Center still refers to Donna as “one of the all-time great hurricanes.”

It’s the time of year to again focus on hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website notes that 78 percent of tropical storm activity comes from mid-August to mid-October. The absolute peak day of hurricane season is, ironically, Sept. 10, the date when Hurricane Donna came roaring and screaming into Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers and the rest of the area. Gusts were reported as high as 168 miles per hour in Naples.

This epic storm inspired Ernie Stevens, then known as Fort Myers’s poet laureate, to pen the following, which was published in The News-Press on Sept. 12, 1960:

“There was a young lady named Donna

“To meet her I’m sure you don’t wanna

“She came from the West

“Full of vigor and zest

“And ruined our flora and fauna.”

Donna did more than send squirrels scampering or trees a-toppling. It was one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, the only one on her journey to produce hurricane force winds in Florida, Mid-Atlantic states and into New England, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Donna’s statistics remain impressive.

• Became a hurricane on Sept. 1 and remained one until Sept. 13.

• Reached Category 4 status on Sept. 2.

• Wind speeds in the Keys were clocked at 150 mph.

On that late summer Saturday in 1960, Lee County’s population was only 83,000―it’s now more than 700,000. A causeway to Sanibel had not yet been built. The interstate highway system had not yet reached Southwest Florida. Edison Mall, the region’s first such retail center, was not yet built. Donna in her journey killed 50, one trucker in Lee County, his truck dangling off the Edison Bridge an enduring image of Donna.

There wasn’t anything such as The Weather Channel or the Internet 57 years ago. Concerned or frightened citizens couldn’t follow the storm’s minute-by-minute path as it headed toward their homes and businesses. All they could really do was batten down and pray. As The News-Press reported the day after storm crashed ashore: “Bonita Beach yesterday was a scene of devastation as though a war had been fought along its length and breadth.” Fish were reported swimming in the streets of what is now called Everglades City but then was known simply as Everglade.

That was Donna, who came “from the West, full of vigor and zest.”

Written by Glenn Miller, a freelance writer and a regular contributor to TOTI Media. 

Hurricane Preparation Tips

  1. Storm surge can reach more than 20 feet and cover hundreds of mile, according to the National Hurricane Center. Knowing where to go is a critical part of an evacuation plan. Residents should know well in advance of a storm’s arrival if they live in an evacuation area.
  2. Stock up far in advance. Hurricane kits should include items such as radios that are either battery powered or hand cranked, flashlights and batteries, whistles to signal for help and local maps. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  3. Flood insurance may not be part of a homeowner’s regular insurance. The same applies for renters. Check with your agent.
  4. Make copies of important documents such as proof of ownership of homes, cars and boats.
  5. Inspect your home for such things as loose shingles or damage to roofs that could increase destruction. Trim or remove any damaged trees or limbs that might threaten your home. Secure rain gutters. Protect windows with storm shutters or half-inch thick marine plywood. Find a safe and secure place to store lawn furniture and other items.
  6. In addition to stocking up on batteries, consider storing data/documents someplace out of a hurricane’s path.