History of Hurricanes

The term hurricane derives from the Caribbean Taino Amerindian term hurac?n. Officially, the term hurricane refers to a tropical cyclone that tends to occur in the eastern Pacific Ocean and more commonly, the Atlantic Ocean. According to Wikipedia a hurricane, or tropical cyclone is…

"…a storm system characterized by a low pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and flooding rain. Tropical cyclones feed on heat released when moist air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor contained in the moist air. They are fueled by a different heat mechanism than other cyclonic windstorms such as nor’easters, European windstorms, and polar lows, leading to their classification as "warm core" storm systems."

Hurricanes During European Exploration

During early exploration days and the American colonization, Hurricanes played a significant role. In 1495, Christopher Columbus reported the first hurricane upon one of his voyages to America. Almost an entire Spanish fleet was destroyed in 1559 when it attempted to sail upon Florida. The Bermuda Islands were settled after a rescue ship sent to the Jamestown colony was shipwrecked by a massive hurricane in 1609. And in 1780, “The Great Hurricane of 1780” hit the Caribbean, destroying both the British and Fresh fleets, remaining the deadliest hurricane on record killing 22,000 people.

Hurricanes during the 1800s

In 1815, The “The Great September Gale” made landfall first in Long Island, NY and then hit the Connecticut coast causing significant damage across the entire New England region.

A Harvard professor produced an article in 1819 concluding that hurricanes where a “moving vortex” and establishing them as a counter-clockwise spinning cyclone. William Redfield concluded, several years later, that a hurricane is a “progressive whirlwind” when he published an article in the American Journal of Science.

Throughout the 1800s, hurricanes continued to wreak havoc along the eastern and gulf coasts of the United States including:

  • 1837: “Racer’s Storm” creates a 2,000 mile path of destruction through Jamaica, the Yucatan, the Gulf Coast of Texas, and then moved over Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina before leaving the North Carolina coast.
  • 1848: 2 Hurricanes hit within a month of each other near Tampa, Florida (then known as Fort Brooke).
  • 1873: U.S. Army Signal Corps warned of an approaching hurricane off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey and Connecticut, creating the first Hurricane Warning. However, the storm never made landfall.
  • 1881: A massive hurricane hits Georgia and South Carolina, killing 700 people and submerging several of barrier islands with it’s storm surge.
  • 1893: 2 different hurricanes kill approximately 2,000 people each. One hit the coast of South Carolina and left that state’s barrier islands completely under water. The other hit Louisiana, flooding a prominent and populated bayou area.

Hurricanes during the 1900s

The century’s first major hurricane hit the coast of Texas at Galveston Island with almost no warning, creating the nation’s deadliest natural disaster. This hurricane came ashore with 15 feet storm tides and was responsible for at least 8,000 deaths, with some estimates as high as 12,000.

In 1926, the storm known as “The Great Miami Hurricane” came ashore as a category 4 hurricane, causing massive destruction with it’s 15 foot storm surge and deadly winds. The hurricane, killing more 350 people, eventually lead to the invention of the first building code in Miami, which was subsequently replicated in more than 5000 cities.

In 1969, Hurricane Camille came ashore with a 24.5 foot storm tide, which along with heavy rains and winds, killed 143 in Mississippi, Camille later killed 113 while flooding Virginia.

1992’s Hurricane Andrew caused massive destruction in South Florida and Louisiana. Andrew only killed 23, but wracked up $26.5 Billion in damages, $25 Billion in Florida alone, becoming the costliest storm in U.S. history until Katrina hit in 2005.

Other notable hurricane occurrences during the 1900s include:

  • 1928: A storm originating in Puerto Rico that went through the Bahamas and onto Plan Beach, FL killed a total of 3,411 people.
  • 1943: Colonel Joseph Duckworth is the first pilot to fly into the eye of a hurricane (intentionally).
  • 1944: A Hurricane off the East Coast of the U.S. sunk a Navy Destroyer, Minesweeper, 2 U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and another light vessel disrupting World War II shipping and killing 344 people.
  • 1953: hurricane naming begins with the storms receiving female names.
  • 1954: Back-to-back hurricanes (Carol and Edna) pummel the New England area, specifically Long Island, NY, Connecticut and Cape Cod. The 2 storms had very similar paths and formed only a few days apart. The storms killed more than 80 people.
  • 1963: Hurricane Flora hits Haiti and Cuba, killing more than 7,000 people.
  • 1971: Hurricane Ginger spins through the North Atlantic, the Bermuda Triangle and the coasts of both North Carolina and Virginia for 31 days, setting a hurricane endurance record. Twenty of those days recorded hurricane force winds.
  • 1974: Hurricane Fifi kills more than 10,000 people in the Honduras.
  • 1975: The Saffir-Simpson scale is created by 2 meteorologists developing a way to measure hurricanes.
  • 1979: Officials begin using male names for Hurricanes.
  • 1983: Category 3 Hurricane Alicia hits Texas through Galveston and Houston causing $2 Billion dollars in damage.
  • 1989: Hurricane Hugo caused $7 Billion damage to the mainland U.S. after making landfall in Charleston, SC. The storm killed 21 with storm tides that reached 20 feet.
  • 1998: Hurricane Mitch kills 11,000 in Honduras.

*Special thanks to SunSentinel.com’s Hurricane Headquarters for a terrific timeline and look back at the history of hurricanes.

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