During hurricane season (June 1 through November 30), Florida residents must constantly be prepared for the full fury of Mother Nature to come roaring ashore as a hurricane or tropical storm. Northeast Florida, however, often lucks out, as storms historically tend to come ashore further south or further north, sparing places like Jacksonville and St. Augustine the worst impacts. Deeper and cooler water off the coast, as well as the Gulf Stream’s outward curve, usually keeps the Oldest City and the Bold New City of the South safe from direct hurricane landfall. This hasn’t always been the case, however. On September 10, 1964, the first hurricane of record to make landfall from the east over extreme Northeast Florida, according to NOAA, landed just north of St. Augustine. Hurricane Dora, a Category 2 storm, caused nearly $30 million in damage to St. Johns County alone, and nearly $200 million worth of damage in Duval County to the north. Surprising, no one was killed locally.
Hurricane Dora, like most other hurricanes, began as a series of loosely organized thunderstorms off the west coast of Africa in late August, moving southwest over the warm waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean where the system would rapidly strengthen. On September 1, reconnaissance aircraft investigated the growing disturbance, deeming it to have already become a tropical storm. Named Dora, it was the sixth named Atlantic storm and second hurricane of the season that year. By September 6, following a fairly rapid intensification, the storm had become a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130mph. Dora weakened later that day and into the 7th, leveling out as a Category 2 storm. Strangely, Hurricane Dora looped at sea several times erratically as she made her way towards land, before coming ashore just north of St. Augustine on the night of September 10. The effects of Dora were felt long before her arrival, though. Heavy waves and high tides ahead of the storm put much of Anastasia Island and St. Augustine underwater. 150 feet of the pier at Marineland to the south was ripped away into the ocean, and the St. Augustine Beach Pier was left unstable and in bad shape.
Hurricane Dora finally came ashore at 11:00PM, with sustained winds of approximately 100mph. A weather station in St. Augustine recorded the lowest pressure in the storm on land, 966mb (the lower the pressure, the more severe the hurricane). The St. Augustine area, Anastasia Island in particular, experienced incredibly high storm surges, the water rising nearly twelve feet. Homes and hotels on the beach were damaged severely, with some completely washed away. Such damage extended north through Ponte Vedra, Jacksonville Beach, and Atlantic Beach. By 12:15 AM, the eye of Dora was passing over St. Augustine, a moment of calm before the other half of the storm came ashore, buffeting the area until the morning. Dora dumped nearly 7.36 inches of rain on St. Augustine during the night, and the town remained underwater for some time after. Newspapers report that some were even driving small motor boats down Cordova Street near its intersection with Bridge Street!
A section of the St. Augustine Beach Pier was torn away, and parts of State Road 13 were completely washed out. In Jacksonville, flooding at the beaches and from the St. Johns River caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. The storm also nearly resulted in the cancellation of a Beatles concert at the Gator Bowl stadium as well. After ripping across the First Coast, Dora weakened to a tropical storm, and turned to the northeast. Blasting Florida and Georgia with heavy rain, the weakened Dora nearly came to a standstill over the Alabama-Georgia border before heading back out to sea over the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The storm would dissipate in the north Atlantic off the coast of Canada by September 16. The Oldest City wouldn’t see another storm like Dora until Hurricane Matthew in 2016, though Matthew never officially made landfall in Florida.
“The Hurricane Season of 1964” by Gordon E. Dunn and Staff, U.S. Weather Bureau Office, Miami, FL; published March 1965. https://www.aoml.noaa.gov/general/lib/lib1/nhclib/mwreviews/1964.pdf
“Hurricane Dora, September 9-12, 1964,” published by NOAA. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/storm_wallets/atlantic/atl1964/dora/preloc/gnv1020b.gif
“The Show That Almost Didn’t Happen: The Beatles Perform at Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl 50 Years Ago” by Tom Szaroleta; published in the Florida Times Union September 11, 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20150514013040/https://www.jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-09-10/story/show-almost-didnt-happen-beatles-perform-jacksonvilles-gator-bowl-50
Hurricane Dora; prepared by Department of Defense and Office of Civil Defense, September 1964.
“Demon Dora Churns Inland, Pounding Florida, Georgia,” published in The Pittsburgh Press, September 10, 1964
“Hurricane Dora Deals City Severe Blow,” published in The St. Augustine Record, September 10, 1964
“Dora: Oldest City’s Unwelcome 1964 Visitor,” published in The St. Augustine Record, July 31, 1984
Written by Robert Covert