A look back: Hurricane Alma marks earliest hurricane to strike contiguous US

Alma made landfall on June 9, 1966

A hurricane blows in on a Florida beach.
A hurricane blows in on a Florida beach. (Image by David Mark from Pixabay.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The first official full week of hurricane season kicked off watching the potential area of low pressure that was closely monitored for most of the week as an area that could take on some potential development.

Now that area is not a concern, according to the National Hurricane Center. This isn’t something abnormal. In fact, looking back at the 60s shows an example of why being ready early in the season is a good idea.

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Hurricane Alma made landfall on June 9, 1966, as it passed by the Dry Tortugas and Key West, Florida, headed for Apalachee Bay. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s official hurricane dataset (HURDAT2), this is the earliest a hurricane has made landfall in the contiguous United States.

While researching this topic, another hurricane name popped up: Amanda. Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University who specializes in all things hurricane, said Hurricane Amanda was identified by Mike Chenoweth and Cary Mock, two researchers, in 2013.

Hurricane Alma made landfall near Apalachee Bay as a Cat 2 hurricane. The earliest calendar year continental U.S. landfalling hurricane on record. (Dr. Phil Klotzbach)

“They argue that Amanda was a hurricane that made landfall in Florida in late May 1863, but this storm is not listed in HURDAT2, so I don’t officially count it in my records,” Klotzbach said when asked which storm came first.

This image shows the Unisys data of Hurricane Alma from the time it spawned until fizzling out. (NOAA)

Hurricane Alma started off as an upper trough that moved southeast into the tropics. From there, a closed cyclone developed on June 3. A tropical depression soon formed after the cyclone moved out of the Gulf of Honduras, producing heavy rain across Central America.

By the June 6, it reached hurricane status headed toward Cuba as a strong Category 2.

This surface analysis shows the strength Hurricane Alma had on June 8th, 1966. It also shows rainfall it was producing over Florida at the time. (NOAA)

Western Cuba endured a lot of damage to buildings and crops. From there it moved toward Key West and eventually passed over Florida on June 9. Alma was a tropical storm as it passed through the Florida panhandle and moved into Georgia.

Once in the subtropical Atlantic, it regained strength, reaching hurricane status again just offshore Cape Hatteras. Eventually, the cooler and drier air weakened the hurricane to an extratropical cyclone by June 13.

Hurricane Alma killed over 90 people, mostly in Honduras, due to flash floods. Alma caused an estimated $210 million in damages. Heavy rain fell from Miami to Tampa.

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