I have two memories of Hurricane Flora, which brought torrential rains to Jamaica between October 5-7 in 1963; neither memory has to do with the actual rain, but instead are of the aftermath. Perhaps staying home because of rain wasn’t particularly memorable to a 6-year-old, and memory is a strange thing anyway.
Hurricane Flora developed to the east of Trinidad on September 30, 1963 and it is interesting to note the difference in the technical data available for forecasting and tracking a hurricane at that time. This can be seen, for example, in a Preliminary Report on Hurricane “Flora”, September 30 – October 12, 1963 done by the US Weather Bureau:
Hurricane “Flora” was one of the most destructive in recent history in Haiti and Cuba. It was unusually violent when it crossed Haiti during the night of October 3-4. Then it remained nearly stationary for more than four days (October 4-8) over eastern Cuba and produced unprecedented amounts of rainfall, which in turn resulted in devastating floods. Although final figures are not yet available, it appears likely that the death toll will number in the thousands and property losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hurricane “Flora” appears to have formed and intensified rapidly about 150 miles east of Trinidad on September 30, 1963. It seems possible that the original disturbance that eventually developed into “Flora” moved off the African coast on September 23. Later a TIROS VII photograph at 0942Z September 26 (Orbit 1464) showed a large cloud mass in the area between 10 and 15N and 35 and 40W. No additional information was received until a KLM jet airliner bound from Lisbon, Portugal to Paramaribo, Surinam reported a disturbed area near 12.4N 47.2W at approximately 2230Z September 28. On the basis of the KLM report, the San Juan Weather Bureau requested special ship reports in the area east of the Lesser Antilles.
Following ship reports and US Navy reconnaissance aircraft flying to the area on September 30, the first advisory for Hurricane Flora was issued, with hurricane warnings for Trinidad, Tobago and the Grenadines.
Flora followed a long and circuitous track through the Caribbean, part of which is clearly shown on this map:
A map from the current Weather Underground site indicates the strength of Hurricane Flora as it traveled on its path of destruction:
When Flora eventually moved away from the region, it left behind devastating death and damage:
The effects on Jamaica were substantial, though nothing near the catastrophic effects on Haiti and Cuba.
Rainfall levels for Jamaica were record breaking, with the highest amount of 60 inches recorded at Spring Hill in Portland. (The highest amount recorded in the region was 100.39 inches in Santiago de Cuba.)
The Gleaner headlines give an indication of the news in Jamaica at the time:
As a 6-year-old, I wasn’t aware of any of this news, the deaths, the destruction and the severe hardships being faced by so many. Children nowadays see images on television and the internet, bringing them far closer to the news of things that don’t touch their lives directly. I do remember that when we went back to school, we had to take boiled water with us and we had strict instructions not to drink water from the pipes, as it would make us sick. I carried my water in a regular glass jam jar, with its metal screw-on lid. All the water bottles were lined up on a shelf in the classroom, with our names labelling them.
We lived on Gore Terrace at the time, which is near to the Sandy Gully and one day, my father walked with my older brother and me out to the Sandy Gully Bridge on Constant Spring Road. It wasn’t raining , and there were many other people standing on the bridge looking at the water roaring through the gully and under the bridge. I don’t remember the sound, but the image of the rough torrents of brown water rushing through the gully is seared into my memory. When we crossed the road to the other side of the bridge, the water churned even more violently as it went down the slope in the gully. I clung to Daddy’s hand and that provided a measure of security, but I had a terrible sense of the danger of that water, which seemed like a frighteningly live thing.
Hurricane Matthew has battered Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas over the past few days, and is now threatening the eastern coast of the USA. The news reporting is in real time, with non-stop images via cable, the internet and social media, which is vastly different from the type of reporting possible 53 years ago. As a comparison, you might watch these two short videos about Flora, one recent (using archival footage) and the other from 1963.
Jamaica has escaped with little damage, though at times it seemed as if we might experience Matthew’s category 4 strength. Today, as in 1963, we know that an October hurricane has dealt a far harsher blow to our regional neighbours than it has to us.