Flashback: Hurricane Donna on its 40th anniversary – 1960-2000

 – Excerpts from “Hurricane Donna: The 40th anniversary,” by John Attaway, published in Citrus Industry magazine, September 2000  –


Hurricane Donna stripped fruit and uprooted trees from Fort Myers to Daytona Beach during a two-day rampage Sept. 10-11, 1960. Donna was the last major hurricane to devastate the Central Florida citrus industry.

As the eye of Donna passed from Fort Myers through Arcadia, Wauchula, Fort Meade, Bartow, Winter Haven and Orlando on her north to northeast course up the peninsula, many dubbed her “the Highway 17 hurricane.” Citrus growers in Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Orange and adjacent counties dubbed her a disaster.

Had there been major citrus plantings in Hendry and Collier counties in 1960, their fate might have been even worse. They would have felt the hurricane’s menacing winds at their peak as the winds stormed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Donna was born in the eastern Atlantic Ocean south of the Cape Verde Islands in an area recognized as the birthplace of many severe Atlantic Basin storms. In 1960, there were no weather satellites to detect a forming tropical depression. And there were no Weather Channel or CNN to warn the world about it, anyway.

It was known that a strong easterly wave passed off the African coast on Aug. 29, 1960, and that heavy rains occurred in the Cape Verde Islands on Aug. 31. But the hurricane wasn’t detected until a hurricane hunter plane flew into a suspicious area on Sept. 2 and found winds of over 130 miles per hour with a central pressure of 28.73 inches near 14 degrees north latitude and 49 degrees west longitude. Donna had already passed through the tropical storm and tropical depression stages and attained the status of a full Category 3 hurricane. With today’s technology, meteorologists could have observed each stage of Donna’s formation.

Read the entire article here.

John Attaway, a 2001 inductee into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame, was scientific director of the Florida Department of Citrus and the author of books detailing the effects of hurricanes on the state’s citrus groves. Learn more about his books here.

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