War Department Letter
By Jerry Wilkinson
(The author considers the following letter obtained from the National Archives of interest. Along with other things, it substantiates the approximate center of the hurricane and explains the circumstances of documenting the lowest barometric pressure.
As to converting Mileposts (MP) to Milemarkers (MM), I suggest: Key West was at MP 522 and MP 0 was at Jacksonville, subtract the indicated MP from 522 and that is the approximate distace to Key West whixh is equals a MM. J.W.)
"Refer to file no. P.E. 167.3
"UNITED STATES ENGINEER OFFICE
"POST OFFICE BUILDING
"March 30, 1939
"Subject: Hurricane data, Florida Keys - September 2, 1935.
"To: The Chief of Engineers S. Army, Washington, D. C.
"Copy to: The Division Engineer, South Atlantic Division, Richmond, Va.
"1. In compliance with instruction's contained in Division Engineers telegram of March 23 1939, additional data is herewith pertaining to barometer reading
barometers and estimate of accuracy of the instruments used during the hurricane of September 2, 1935, in the Florida Keys. The locations used are referred to mileposts on the railway which are shown on map, listed as Inclosure 1; accompanying detail report of this office dated October 21, 1935, file: E. D. 611 (Florida) -17, upon the hurricane.
"2. The northernmost limit of the barometer readings collected was at Carysfort Reef, which lies due east of Milepost 412. Barometer readings at this point were:
Date Time Direction Velocity Reading
Sept. 2 2:00 p.m. ENE 45 M.P.H. 29.90
4:00 p.m. ENE 60 " 29.76
5:15 p.m. ENE 80 " 29.68 (lowest reading)
8:00 p.m. ENE 70 " 29.70
10:00 p.m. ENE 65 " 29.80
This barometer was an aneroid [containing no liquid], reliable and of good quality, French manufacture. Wind velocities estimated.
"3. Tavernier is located at Milepost 431 [Using my suggestion 522 - 431 = MM-91], on Plantation Key [But Tavernier is not and was not on Plantation Key - JW].
The barometers here were aneroid , reliable and of good quality, of French manufacture. The low barometric reading shown on the chart was observed by Mr. Eugene Lowe. Record reading at Tavernier is as follows:
Locality Date Time Barometer reading
Tavernier, Fla. Sept. 2 4:45 p.m. 29.28
6:00 p.m. 29.08
6:30 p.m. 28.98
7:30 p.m. 28.80
8:00 p.m. 28.62
8:35 p.m. 28.58 (lowest reading)
9:15 p.m. 28.74
9:50 p.m. 28.97
10:20 p.m. 29.08
Sept. 3 1:15 a.m. 29.32
This barometer was checked by the Weather Bureau September 22, 1935. and was found to be reading .12 inch too high, which would make the low pressure 28.46 inches. Mr. Lowe has since been designated as observer for the Weather Bureau in this locality. Other low readings at the locality were: Mr. [Hugh] McKenzie, 28.68 inches; by Mr. Roger Albury, 28.70 inches. All low reading occurred between 8:35 and 9:15 p.m.
"4. Low reading at Upper Matecumbe Key, Milepost 442 were: By Capt. Ed Butters, 26.65 inches at 8:25 p.m.; and by E. B. Parker, 26.55 inches at 9:30 p.m. The instruments were aneroid barometers, dependable and of good quality, of French manufacture.
"5. Readings at Alligator Reef Lighthouse, 4.1 miles southeast of Milepost 444 (This lighthouse is located on the outer reef):
Date Time Barometer reading
Sept. 2 12 noon 29.85 inches
5:00 p.m 29.20 "
6:00 p.m 29.00 "
6:30 p.m 27.84 "
8:00 p.m 27.45 "
8:10 p.m 27.35 " (lowest)
9:00 p.m 27.50 "
10:00 p.m 28.40 "
10:30 p.m 28.80 "
11:00 p.m 29.03 "
11:40 p.m. 29.20 "
12:00 p.m 29.24 "
Sept. 3 12:30 a.m 29.30 "
1:00 a.m 29.34 "
1:30 a.m 29.38 "
2:00 a.m 29.40 "
3:00 a.m 29.46 "
4:00 a.m 29.50 "
6:00 a.m 29.55 "
9:00 a.m 29.62 "
10:00 a.m 29.64 "
11:00 a.m 29.68 "
1:00 p.m. 29.70 "
2:00 p.m 29.74 "
Beginning of the calm period occurred at 8:10 p.m. and ended at 10:15 p.m. This barometer was checked by the Weather Bureau, November 21, 1935, at Washington D. C. At the point of low reading, the barometer was plus .05 inches too high. The correct low reading would therefore be 27.30 inches. This barometer was an aneroid, dependable and of good quality, of French manufacture.
"6. The barometer at Lower Matecumbe Key was of good quality, French manufacture, located at Milepost 449. The low was 27.55 at 8:45 p.m. September 2, 1935. As the pointer was off the scale, low reading was estimated. The observer was Mr. R. L. Bow, Engineer of the State Road Department, and formerly one of the engineers employed in the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway extension. Mr. Bow had been through a number of hurricanes on the Keys. He has since died.
"7. Low barometer reading at Craig, Milepost 451, the storm center as it passed over the keys, September 2, 1935, 8:20 to 9:25 p.m., 26.40 inches: Observers, Capt. Ivar Olsen, R. W. Craig and R. C. Jackson. This barometer was located by employees of this office and Capt. Olsen, the owner, agreed to turn it over to us for calibration. It was turned over to the Miami Weather Bureau for test readings. The Miami Weather Bureau corrected the reading to 26.38 inches, then sent it to the Weather Bureau at Washington, for further test. The Weather Bureau at Washington found the corrected reading to be 26.35 inches. As these men were exposed and in the open, no recording were made of readings, but the low point reached by the barometer pointer was marked on the barometer case.
"8. Readings were made by Mr. J. E. Duane, at Long Key, Milepost 457. Mr. Duane was caretaker of the Long Key Fishing Camp, owned by the Florida East Coast Hotel Company [a division of the Florida East Coast Railway Company]. He left the keys shortly after the hurricane and efforts to locate him since that time have not been successful. Reading supplied by Mr. Woodward, F. E. R. A. Engineer, from Mr. Duane's record:
"Date Time Direction Force Barometer Reading
Sept. 2 2:00 p.m. NNE 6 28.90 inches
3:00 p.m. NNE 8 28.52 "
4:00 p.m. N 9 28.42 "
5:00 p.m. N 12 28.22 "
6:00 p.m. N 12+ 28.04 "
6:45 p.m. NW 12+ 27.90 "
7:00 p.m. NW 12+ 27.78 "
8:00 p.m. NW 12+ 27.50 "
9:00 p.m. NW 12+ 27.29 "
9:20 p.m. NW Beginning of lull 27.22 "
10:10 p.m. lull lull 27.02 "
(High water came over from ocean side)
10:15 p.m. SSW 6 to 8 27.00 "
(End of lull; beginning of blow from southwest)
10:20 p.m. SW 12+ 26.98 "
Wind estimated above 175 miles per hour. After observation at 10:20 p.m.; buildings were destroyed and barometer lost. Force of wind given in Beaufort scale. [Force 6 = 22 - 27 m.p.h in knots; Force 8 = 34 - 40 m.p.h in knots; Force 9 = 41 - 47 m.p.h in knots; Force 12 = 64+ m.p.h in knots] The instrument used by Mr. Duane was an aneroid barometer and of good quality.
" 9. From this point, Milepost 457, to Milepost 471, the southerly and westerly limit of storm damage, the area is very sparsely settled and no barometer readings were obtained except at Sombrero Key Lighthouse, which was south of Milepost 475, outside the destructive limits of the storm. The readings at Sombrero Key Lighthouse:
Date Time Direction Velocity Barometer Reading
Sept. 2 2:00 p.m. NNE 25 M.P.H. 29.75 inches
4:00 p.m. N 35 " 29.64 "
6:00 p.m. N 55 " 29.53 "
8:00 p.m. NNW 70 " 29.28 "
10:30 p.m. W 100 " 28.80 " (lowest)
11:30 p.m. WNW 95 " 28.88 "
12:30 p.m. WNW 90 " 29.04 "
This barometer, like the others at the lighthouses, was an aneroid, reliable and of good quality, of French manufacture.
"10. All barometer readings from the lighthouses were furnished by Mr. W. W. Demaritt, Superintendent, Seventh Lighthouse District, who states that these barometers were calibrated shortly before occurrence of this storm. Readings are dependable.
"11. The estimated highest velocity of the wind in the vicinity of the center of the storm, as given by Mr. Bow, was 175- to 200 miles per hour. Estimate of the same velocity was made by Capt. Ivar Olsen and R. W. Craig. The same estimate, 175- to 200 miles per hour, was made by Mr. J. E. Duane, at Long Key.
"12. It may be said, in general, of these observers, that they are men who follow the sea, are familiar with the barometer, how to read it and apply the readings in following the course of a storm. Most of the instruments used on the keys were brought from ship chandlery dealers who dealt in instruments of French manufacture. Until comparatively recent years, barometers of American manufacture, of equal quality, were sold at a very much higher price and were not on sale at ship chandlery stores in the southeastern part of Florida. Most of these men were not interested in keeping a written record of the storm, but merely in following it to its lowest point for their own determination as to the time when the worst of the storm has passed their vicinity. In the case of this particular storm, there were comparatively few of the survivors who saved the barometers in the destruction of their homes.
"13. In the area between Tavernier, and including Upper Matecumbe Key, about 25 clocks were picked up after the hurricane. All of these clocks had stopped between 8:25 and 8:35 o'clock, indicating that they were submerged by water within that interval of time."/s/
"Lewis H. Watkins
"Colonel, Corps of Engineers,
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