The hurricane shrine of Key West

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 10:47 PM GMT on December 22, 2006

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The long Christmas weekend is upon us, and I thought it would be fitting to write about my visit a few weeks ago to the Key West's Hurricane Grotto--the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church at 700 Truman Avenue. It was there in 1922 that Sister M. Louis Gabriel and her fellow nuns created a stone shrine in memory of the 600 who died during the great Atlantic-Gulf hurricane of Sept. 10, 1919, a Category 4 hurricane that made a direct hit on Key West. Sister Gabriel blessed the grotto and vowed, "As long as the Grotto stands, Key West will never experience the full brunt of a hurricane." Key West residents regularly make pilgrimages to the grotto to light candles and pray for protection from hurricanes. So far, the grotto has worked--no Key West resident has died from a hurricane strike since the 1919 hurricane. However, as Brian Norcross pointed out to me, the Grotto's protection has not been perfect. Key West did suffer the brunt of Hurricane Georges in 1998, which made a direct hit on the island as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds. Key West also felt the western eyewall of a Category 3 hurricane in September 1948. The hurricane's calm eye passed over Boca Chica Key 8 miles to the east of Key West, bringing winds that were clocked at 122 mph at Boca Chica Airport before the anemometer blew away.

I was eager to see the famed Grotto myself and offer my own thanks for a merciful 2006 hurricane season. After a short walk from the hubbub of downtown Key West's gift shops and restaurants, I found myself on the church grounds where the grotto stands, surrounded by majestic trees and bordered by inviting paths and gardens. As I neared the stone edifice, my footsteps slowed automatically, for here was clearly a place that should be approached slowly and with reverence. I could feel a powerful spiritual energy emanating from the Grotto. It was clear that many, many people had prayed here in the 85 years since its construction. I entered a small cave filled with burning candles, and stood in quietness before the altar, offering my prayers of thanks for a quiet 2006 hurricane season, and add my own wishes for Key West's continued protection.


Figure 1. Key West's famous Hurricane Grotto.

Has the lack a direct strike by a hurricane in Key West since 1919 been unusual? Yes. South Florida is the most hurricane prone area in the Atlantic next to Puerto Rico, so it is surprising that we've gone so long without a bad hurricane in Key West. Hurricane Wilma brought a 5-foot storm surge to Key West in 2005 and caused millions in damage, but the brunt of the hurricane missed the island. Likewise, when Hurricane Rita approached Key West in September of 2005, it was apparent that the protection of the Grotto would be severely tested. But as I wrote in a blog the day after Rita passed:

Well, the protection of the grotto worked again. Key West barely escaped the brunt of a severe hurricane that could have been so very much worse. Had Rita's intensification cycle started 24 hours earlier, and she tracked 50 miles further north, the city of Key West would have been devastated. The Key West airport never measured sustained hurricane force winds from Rita, although the National Hurricane Center did receive an unofficial report of sustained winds of 75 mph with gusts to 102 mph in the Key West area. There was flooding and wind damage that will no doubt add up to tens of millions of dollars, but Key West is feeling lucky tonight. Key Westers, pay a visit to your grotto tomorrow and give thanks!


This holiday season, give thanks for your blessings, and pray for a more peaceful world and a peaceful hurricane season of 2007. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Jeff Masters

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581. Patrap
12:39 AM GMT on December 28, 2006
Evening
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
579. Skyepony (Mod)
12:07 AM GMT on December 28, 2006
578. pottery
12:08 AM GMT on December 28, 2006
Hello there.. I,ve been out of touch,. Hope everyone had a good Christmas, and that all is well......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24307
577. Skyepony (Mod)
11:49 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
Dire warnings from China's first climate change report

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 162 Comments: 37829
575. LowerCal
8:57 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
lightning10 maybe you live in one of the few very wind protected locations -- like right up against the Puente Hills but not near a pass or a large canyon.

As for the rain totals -- I see some moderate to heavy showers headed in your direction right now.
Member Since: July 26, 2006 Posts: 58 Comments: 9168
574. Skyepony (Mod)
7:19 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
MINI AUTONOMOUS UNDERWATER VEHICLES SHOW RESEARCH VALUEOperating in Shallow Waters, AUVs Sample Tidal Rivers and Estuaries

Dec. 27, 2006 The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science successfully tested a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUV, in the Newport River, N. C., estuary at depths often less than two feet. The vehicles, navigating via Global Positioning System, or GPS, and pre-programmed guidance, collected critical environmental data including oxygen, salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, acidity, sediment and water depth.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 162 Comments: 37829
573. Patrap
6:22 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
Watch the Ferry Cross the Mississippi River Here in New Orleans Live..every 20 minutes.Click Image for larger view.Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
572. turtlehurricane
6:04 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
Cool conditions are occurring across Florida today but, a warm up is imminent. In the long term, a severe weather event is possible. Read more on my blog or

Florida Weather
Member Since: July 22, 2005 Posts: 227 Comments: 469
571. lightning10
3:14 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
Never any wind in my area I dont know why I am under this

... Summary of watches... warnings and advisories in effect for
southwestern California as of 6 am PST Wednesday...

***los Angeles county***

High Wind Warning in effect through 10 PM PST this evening for the
Antelope Valley.

Wind Advisory in effect until 10 am PST this morning for the
mountains excluding the Santa Monica range.

High Wind Warning from 10 am PST this morning to 12 PM PST Friday
for the mountains excluding the Santa Monica range.

High Wind Warning in effect from 12 PM PST today to 12 PM PST
Friday for the Santa Monica Mountains.

Wind Advisory in effect from noon to 6 PM PST today for the
coast... valleys and Catalina Island.

High wind watch in effect from this evening through Friday
morning for the valleys.

High wind watch in effect from this evening through Thursday
morning for the coast below passes and canyons from Malibu to
Hollywood.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 41 Comments: 630
570. lightning10
3:10 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
El Nino layed another egg today. We where expecting 1/2-1 inch of rain today. No one LA county South has reported more thne a quarter (0.25) of an inch. Winds behind the storm 40-50 MPH yes more Santa Anna wins.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 41 Comments: 630
569. Patrap
2:19 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
The Only Storm Surge Video youll ever need to see.St. Bernard Parish..August 29th..05
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
568. Thunderstorm2
1:08 PM GMT on December 27, 2006
Convection has increased in the centre of 90S.
Inthe Southern Hem their is another INVEST 92S currently at 20kts. In the Indian Ocean their is an INVEST called 97A.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
564. weatherboykris
5:11 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
ENSO update has a La Nina by August.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
563. weatherboykris
5:10 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
goodnight everyone
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
562. Skyepony (Mod)
4:08 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Too funny Caffinehog.

Canadian GEM model
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 162 Comments: 37829
561. HIEXPRESS
4:02 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Yes, a good idea to watch & plan to maybe hunker down. Looked worse on models earlier, backed off a little for here - temps/moisture might not recover so much, but for Gulf coast you could see more I think. With any luck, it will spend that energy out over the Gulf (I know - people/property are there too). Just like [that other season] "plan for the worst & hope for the best" is always the way to go.
hog - yer killing me
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
559. Caffinehog
3:42 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Cyclonebuster's idea also prevents this.
Member Since: June 5, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 40
558. sandcrab39565
3:36 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
I agree but forcast looks bleek.
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
557. Patrap
3:35 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
No good news I c..Fridays going to be nasty.Im hoping this thing dosnt bomb in intensity as forecasted.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
555. Patrap
3:29 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Ok..will do
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
554. sandcrab39565
3:27 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Pat, check the Bell mail
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
553. Patrap
3:23 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
May not be the evening to be in the trailer.Im making plans to be somewhere else with all of Us.A place more sturdier than here Friday evening.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
552. Patrap
3:21 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
The GFSx shows a nasty one. too Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
551. Patrap
3:20 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
I think this one looks to be a lil different.Fast mover..lotsa energy..Lotsa moisture..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
549. Patrap
3:16 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Holy Cr8p! Batman!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
548. sandcrab39565
3:14 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Pat looks like possible trouble Friday.
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
547. Patrap
3:13 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
8
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
545. Patrap
3:08 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Local mets talking the event up.High tides xpected too. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
544. Patrap
3:05 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Friday looks to be er..problamatic for Many.Im afraid.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
543. HIEXPRESS
2:51 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Hey Pat. You watching for this next storm? Buster, you got anything besides, you know...
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
538. Patrap
2:32 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
6
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128275
535. HIEXPRESS
1:42 AM GMT on December 27, 2006
Instant replay base reflectivity
Florida Christmas storm
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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