170th Anniversary of Barbados hurricane warning system

Sir William Reid CB FRS as Royal Governor of Bermuda

In July of 1847, William Reid, Royal Governor of Barbados, inaugurated a hurricane warning system on that island.  As a colonel of the Royal Engineers, Reid had been assigned to Barbados to rebuild barracks destroyed by a hurricane in 1831.  Seeing the vast destruction left by the storm spurred an interest in Reid, and he devoted much of his free time researching hurricanes.  By 1838, he was able to publish his studies in “The Law of Storms,” which proved an invaluable guide to mariners.  Early editions included an etched card made of translucent horn that sailors could lay on their navigational charts, find the storm location relative to their ship, and plot a course to the weaker side of a hurricane.  In recognition of his work, Reid was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded a Knight Companionship of the Order of the Bath (CB).  He was also made Royal Governor of Bermuda where he promoted agricultural development on the island.

In 1846, he was re-assinged to Barbados.  Knowing full well the threat hurricanes posed to the island, he began a program to provide warnings of approaching storms.  He had a barometer installed at the police station in the capital of Bridgetown.  He gave instructions that frequent barometric reading be taken.  Signals were then raised at the harbor displaying what the pressure trend was.  A white ball hoisted up the mast overlooking Carlisle Bay portended good weather, but a red ball signified a fall in pressure.  Two balls signified a rapid fall, and if lowered to half-staff any ship within eyesight of the harbor would know to seek shelter.  It was among the first attempts to provide systematic, widely broadcast warnings of approaching storms.

Reid left the Windward Island in 1848 and returned to England.  He modified his “Law of Storms” and wrote extensively about hurricanes, weather, and agriculture.  He  was elected Vice President of the Royal Society and served on the executive committee of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace of 1850.  He also continued his military and public service, being appointed Governor of Malta where he continued to promote agricultural reform.

William Reid, “An Attempt to Develop the Law of Storms by Means of Facts, Arranged According to Place and Time, and Hence to Point Out a Cause for the Variable Winds” (London,1838, 1841, 1846, 1849, 1850)