The hurricane shrine of Key West

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

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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331. Thunderstorm2
4:30 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Max will be missed.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
329. Patrap
10:23 AM CST on December 24, 2006
And So long to a great NHC director..Max Mayfield..2
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
327. Thunderstorm2
4:20 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Merry Christmas and Happy Hols Rand!!!!!!!!!
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
326. Patrap
10:19 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Merry Xmas Rand...stay warm and dry!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
325. Patrap
10:19 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
323. Thunderstorm2
4:17 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Hi
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
321. Thunderstorm2
4:13 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Merry Christmas Dr Masters!!!
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
320. Patrap
10:06 AM CST on December 24, 2006
For Dr. Masters and All the Crew at Wunderground..this Ones for YOU! Merry Christmas from all of us Here
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
319. lightning10
4:02 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
This could get interesting in So Cal if the GFS is right...

.model have been having some difficulty with the system
moving into the west CST Wednesday through Thursday. Latest runs suggest the
chance of rain will increase across the entire area late Tuesday night and
Wednesday. The latest run of the GFS...the 06s run...shows a
vigorous short wave dropping southward through California late Wednesday and Wednesday night...
which if true would keep the threat of rain through Wednesday night or early
Thursday. In addition...the 06z run is quite cold late Wednesday/Wednesday
night...and would imply fairly low snow levels
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318. Thunderstorm2
2:31 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
In the Western Pacific 98W has dissipated due to high wind shear
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
317. Thunderstorm2
2:21 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Look at the storms over Texas and the GulfLink
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
316. Patrap
8:20 AM CST on December 24, 2006
GOM vis loop...Cue the Jaws music....!Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
315. Patrap
8:16 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Those are Special Xmas Eve Clouds rand..very rare event
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
312. Patrap
8:13 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Moisture and T-storms developing rapidly..as the GOM low begins to deepen..this am Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
311. Thunderstorm2
2:10 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Getting cloudy over Cape Canaveral Link
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
310. Patrap
8:08 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Ceiling lowering.Winds really picked up last half hour here.This is the port teLinkrminal Live video feed..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
309. Patrap
8:06 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Well..my metal Xmas tree just got blown off the top of the trailer..Winds from the east at 20- 25mph.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
308. Thunderstorm2
2:01 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Florida needs to brace itself
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
306. Thunderstorm2
1:56 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Florida Satellite Link
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
305. DenverMark
1:55 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Merry Christmas Dr. Masters!!
Thanks for all you do all year!
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302. Patrap
7:51 AM CST on December 24, 2006
Looks like a plan for your Event in Stuart.
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301. Patrap
1:51 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
morning thunderstorm
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299. Patrap
1:51 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Near coastal buoy south of me..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
298. Thunderstorm2
1:49 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Hi Randrewl and Patrap
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
297. Patrap
1:48 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Suggest Santa get pontoon rigs for Sliegh!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
295. Patrap
1:45 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Trouble arriving on time ...Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 141527
294. Thunderstorm2
1:42 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Bondo's Info
1 minute sustained winds of 115 kt (215 km/h, 130 mph), gusting to 140 kts (260 km/h, 160 mph). The maximum wave height associated with the tropical cyclone is 27 ft (8.2 m).
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
293. Thunderstorm2
1:36 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Hi if anyone is on
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
292. Thunderstorm2
1:34 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Bondo is Back, Big time
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
291. philliesrock
1:32 PM GMT on December 24, 2006
Bondo update:

bondo

bondo

bondo

bondo
Member Since: June 29, 2006 Posts: 65 Comments: 3197
288. snowboy
7:10 AM GMT on December 24, 2006
this potentially nasty system for you in the south is promising to bring lots of snow further north - I'm looking forward to it..
Member Since: September 21, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 2556

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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