235th Anniversary of the Great Hurricane of 1780

The Great Hurricane of 1780's track (from Emanuel's Storm Fury)

The Great Hurricane of 1780’s track (from “Divine Wind” by Emanuel)

From October 9 through 15, 1780, a severe hurricane ravaged the eastern Caribbean islands and became the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.

The storm was first detected when it began to affect Barbados on Oct. 9th, and struck with full fury near Noon of the following day.  Winds were estimated by Dr. José Carlos Millás at 200 mph (320 km/hr) although this value is highly subjective.  The storm destroyed most homes on the island and killed 4,500 people.  It moved slowly on a north-northwesterly course taking it over or near the islands of Saint Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, and  Guadeloupe where about 8,500 were killed.  It also brought storms to the rest of the Leeward and Virgin Islands before moving through the Mona Passage on Oct.14-15th, causing great destruction on Puerto Rico and Hispañola.  In Puerto Rico the storm was known as the San Calixto hurricane.  At the time, both English and French fleets, at war with each other, were involved in maneuvers in the area and were caught by this storm.  A number of frigates and even ships-of-the-line were sunk with all hands.  Some 9,000 sailors and soldiers were drowned.  The hurricane then moved out into the northern Atlantic, missing but affecting Bermuda and Cape Race in Newfoundland.  The resulting casualties of the storm were on the order of 20,000 to 22,000 people on the islands and at sea.  There are no reliable estimates of the financial damage, but the economies of the islands struck took decades to recover.

For many years, this hurricane was thought to be the same storm which had struck Jamaica the previous fortnight and then a week later struck 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.

References

Rappaport, Edward N., and José Fernandez-Partagas, 1996: The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492–1996.

Millás, Dr. José Carlos, 1968: Hurricanes of the Caribbean and adjacent regions, 1492-1800. Academy of the Arts and Sciences of the Americas, Miami, Florida, 328 pp.

 

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