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The 1917 Pinar del Río hurricane was the strongest Atlantic hurricane of the 1917 Atlantic hurricane season. The fourth tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and the second major hurricane of the season, it developed east-southeast of Martiniquemarker. It moved west-northwest, passing between Saint Luciamarker and Martinique. In the eastern Caribbean, it strengthened to a hurricane, and it struck the northern coast of Jamaica. It rapidly intensified to a strong Category 4 hurricane as it made landfall on the Isla de la Juventudmarker and western Cuba. It turned northward in the Gulf of Mexico, and it moved ashore in Okaloosa County, Floridamarker with 115 mph (185 km/h) sustained winds.

Although effects were minor in the Lesser Antilles, the cyclone destroyed much of the banana crop in Jamaica. The western half of Cuba received significant damages to residences and agriculture. On the Gulf Coast of the United States, the hurricane caused timber losses, moved boats ashore, and damaged waterfront structures. The remnants of the storm also produced heavy precipitation over portions of Alabama. The cyclone was the most intense hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle until 1995, but loss of life was minimal.

Meteorological history

Late on September 19, a tropical storm developed east of the Lesser Antilles. Originally, the cyclone was believed to have formed on September 20. On September 20, it steadily intensified, and the center moved through the northern Windward Islands. The system produced strong winds and rough seas in the Lesser Antilles. On September 21, it attained maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 km/h), becoming the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane. It continued to strengthen as it crossed the Caribbean Seamarker on September 22, attaining winds of 100 mph (160 km/h). Later, it made landfall northeast of Kingston, Jamaicamarker with 105 mph (170 km/h) winds on September 23. On September 24, it turned northwest and strengthened to the equivalent of a major hurricane near Grand Cayman Islandmarker. The cyclone strengthened to an estimated peak intensity of 150 mph (240 km/h) on September 25, and it made landfall on the Isla de la Juventud, Cubamarker. The hurricane was classified as a marginal Category 3 hurricane prior to subsequent reanalysis, which determined that the cyclone was stronger. An estimated central pressure of 928 mbar (27.40 inHg) was based on a peripheral measurement of 939 mbar (27.76 inHg) when the hurricane moved over the Isla de la Juventud.

In the Gulf of Mexicomarker, the cyclone turned north on September 26, and it slowly weakened. It passed 110 miles (180 km/h) southeast of New Orleansmarker with 120 mph (195 km/h) winds on September 28. Early on September 29, the hurricane made landfall near Fort Walton Beachmarker as a marginal Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Originally, the Atlantic hurricane database listed the storm as a 100 mph (160 km/h) hurricane over northwest Florida. It quickly weakened to a tropical storm over southeastern Alabama, and it merged with an extratropical frontal system in southern Georgia on September 30.

Preparations

On September 21, the U.S. Weather Bureau issued advisories because of strong swells in the Leeward Islands, indicating the presence of a tropical disturbance. On September 23, northeast storm warnings were issued for the Floridamarker coast from West Palm Beachmarker to Boca Grandemarker. On September 25, the Weather Bureau advised marine traffic to remain alert in the Gulf of Mexico, noting that the intensity of the storm was unknown. Later, hurricane warnings were issued from Apalachicola, Floridamarker to Mobile on September 25. Warnings were also released from Pascagoula, Mississippimarker to New Orleans on September 26. The warnings were briefly discontinued because of track uncertainties, but they were re-issued when the cyclone began to curve northeast. On September 27 and 28, scheduled vessel trips were cancelled in New Orleans. Marine traffic resumed after the storm passed east of the city. The storm struck the Gulf Coast later than anticipated because of slow forward motion.

Impact

The system produced heavy precipitation and strong winds in the eastern Caribbean islands. In Jamaica, the hurricane caused significant damages to banana and coconut plantations. Communications from Holland Bay were disrupted when the station was demolished. The greatest damages were reported from the northern half of the island. In Nueva Gerona, severe winds destroyed well constructed buildings, devastating the town. Orchards and crops were destroyed on the Pinar del Río Province.

In Burrwood, Louisiana, rain bands produced 6.40 inches (160 mm) of rain. Most of the heaviest rainfall occurred closer to the center. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad sent trains on alternate routes because of eroded tracks near Lake Catherine. The effects of the cyclone also damaged crops and timber stands in Louisianamarker and Mississippimarker. The storm surge associated with the hurricane moved several structures from their foundations in Buras, Louisianamarker. In Biloximarker, warnings prevented considerable loss of shrimp boats. The hurricane severed communication from Pensacola, Floridamarker, though reports eventually indicated that the wireless radio plant was not destroyed. Several small watercraft washed ashore, and numerous wharves, docks, and boat storages received damage. Total damages were estimated near $170,000 in the vicinity of Pensacola. Significant destruction of timber occurred in Santa Rosa Countymarker, and crops, structures, and livestock were affected. Minimal damage occurred in Mobile, Alabamamarker, where portions of roofs, trees, and other debris littered streets. No boats from the area were lost, and waterfront damage was negligible. Strong winds occurred along the southwest coast of Florida, and a wind gust of 44 mph (70 km/h) was reported in Jacksonville, Floridamarker. A total of five people were killed in Crestview, Floridamarker. More than 5 inches (125 mm) of rain was measured in Montgomery, Alabamamarker, prompting flood advisories for the lower Alabama River watershed.

The minimum atmospheric pressure of 928 mbar (27.42 inHg) established the cyclone as the third most intense landfalling Cuban hurricane. Deeper pressures of 921 mbar (27.23 inHg) and 915 mbar (27.02 inHg) were measured in the 1924 and 1932 hurricanes, respectively. The cyclone (949 mbar/28.02 inHg) was also the most intense tropical cyclone in the Florida Panhandle until Hurricane Opal (942 mbar/27.82 inHg). At the time, it was tied with a 1882 storm, which also had a central pressure of 949 mbar (28.02 inHg) at landfall in northwest Florida.

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