Thirty years ago this morning – Sunday, August 23, 1992 – we in South Florida were getting ready for Hurricane Andrew. It was coming that night. This was our only day to prepare. The day was mostly sunny, and there was a nice breeze in the afternoon. There was no sign that a monumental, life-changing hurricane was just over the horizon.
At 8:00 AM, the National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Warning for the Florida east coast from Vero Beach to the Miami area plus the Keys. Even with the storm less than a day away, intrinsic uncertainties in the forecasts of that era kept the area of concern large, even though Andrew was a compact storm.
Evacuations were ordered from the areas near the water.
That morning, Hurricane Hunters found a perfectly developed hurricane approaching the Bahamas. At 8:31 AM, a low-flying NOAA-12 satellite captured the iconic image of the magnificent but hellish storm you see here.
Winds were listed as 120 mph in the 5:00 AM advisory, as estimated from the aircraft measurements. Using the modern paradigm, which incorporates a better understanding of the structure of intense hurricanes, the top winds would have a been rated at 135 mph – already a Category 4. The forecast was for Andrew to continue to strengthen. The warm Gulf Stream waters were ahead.
Hurricane Andrew’s winds peaked at 170 mph by modern reckoning as it was approaching the Bahamas about 2:00 PM that Sunday.
Three hours later, the eye moved directly over the northern tip of Eleuthera Island. We watched with dread as it happened, but we had no contact with the area where the eye made landfall. We knew it had to be horribly bad, but we had big problems of our own. Hurricane Andrew was going to hit South Florida that night.
Even through the day on Sunday, we didn't know where in South Florida would get the worst of it. Somehow many people got the message that Andrew was forecast to make landfall around the Dade/Broward County line. I don’t know where that came from, but I know that message got out. I’ve heard it over and over. It’s baked into Hurricane Andrew lore.
The National Hurricane Center never forecast that. Their forecasts jumped from north of Palm Beach County, to Boca Raton, to South Dade on Saturday as Andrew kept staying to the left of the predicted track. On that Sunday, the official forecast was locked on southern Dade County south of downtown Miami.
Even though the forecast was consistent through the day that Sunday, we still didn’t know where the corridor of damage was going to be. Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura, Miami, or Homestead all seemed equally likely. But by evening it was clear.
The 11:00 PM public advisory from the National Hurricane Center included, "ON THIS PATH, THE CENTER OF ANDREW WILL CROSS THE COAST NEAR MIAMI, FLORIDA AROUND DAYBREAK MONDAY MORNING."
We could no longer hope that Andrew was going to weaken or turn away. On TV I said, "It is going to happen for Dade County tonight." And it did.
At midnight, the winds first reached tropical storm strength at the coast as an outer band swung through. And so it began. Andrew was on our doorstep.
To be continued later today.
Three decades ago, renowned hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross did a 23-hour marathon broadcast as Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast. His broadcast was the only one to stay on the air and many people’s only link to the outside world during the worst of the storm. He is credited with saving countless lives due to his life-saving advice. Now, 30 years later, Bryan will re-live the storm that devastated South Florida and look at the infrastructure changes that resulted. Watch The Wrath of Hurricane Andrew: Tragedy and Triumph on FOX Weather, premiering August 23rd and 24th at 10 P.M. EDT.