235th Anniversary of the Savanna-la-Mer hurricane

Probable track of the 1780 Savanna-la-Mer hurricane (from "Divine Wind" by Emanuel)
Probable track of the 1780 Savanna-la-Mer hurricane (from “Divine Wind” by Emanuel)

On the afternoon of October 3, 1780, a severe hurricane struck Jamaica and destroyed the port city of Savanna-la-Mer.  It had already sunk the HMS Monarch which was transporting Spanish prisoners to Kingston.  As it approached the island, many villagers were drawn to the shore to witness the heavy surf.  They were engulfed in the quickly rising storm surge (estimated at 20 feet (6.5 m)) as the hurricane came ashore.  The surge also wrecked ships anchored in the harbor and destroyed most of the buildings in town.  Similar devastation was visited on the port village of Lucea and Montego Bay on Jamaica’s northern side, killing hundreds more people.  The storm would later sink several British warships in Cuban waters while crippling many others.  The storm’s death total was around three thousand with nearly half that total being sailors.

For many years, this hurricane was thought to be the same storm which would days later visit trouble on the Antilles and then five days later strike Pensacola.  Later investigation by Lt.Col. William Reid in the mid-19th Century revealed these to be three separate hurricanes.  These three storms made 1780 the deadliest Atlantic hurricane season on record.