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date: 02 December 2020

The History and Science of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbeanfree

  • Sherry JohnsonSherry JohnsonDepartment of History, Florida International University


The Caribbean’s most emblematic weather symbol is the hurricane, a large rotating storm that can bring destructive winds, coastal and inland flooding, and torrential rain. A hurricane begins as a tropical depression, an area of low atmospheric pressure that produces clouds and thunderstorms. Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30, although there have been infrequent storms that formed outside these dates. Hurricanes are classified according to their maximum wind speed, and when a tropical system reaches the wind speed of a tropical storm (35 mph), it is given a name. Lists of names, which are rotated periodically, are specific to certain regions. If a named storm is responsible for causing a significant number of deaths or property damage, the name is retired and replaced with another.

Most deaths in a storm came from drowning, from storm surge along the coast or from flooding or mudslides in the interior. Storm-related deaths also occur when structures collapse or when victims are struck by flying debris. One important and underestimated cause of death after the passage of a storm is disease. Even if the destruction is not immediate, the passage of a hurricane can leave significant ecological damage along the coast and in the interior.

Hurricanes can have a devastating effect on a community that takes a direct hit. Repeated hurricane strikes can leave a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, “hurricane fatigue.” Conversely, survivors of a disaster are often left with a feeling of confidence that, since they have endured the effects of at least one deadly hurricane, they can do so again.

Until the last half of the 18th century, meteorology remained primitive, but the Age of Enlightenment brought scientific and ideological advances. Major beneficiaries were royal navies whose navigation manuals and nautical charts became increasingly more accurate. In 1821, William C. Redfield established the circular nature of storms and their counterclockwise rotation, while other scientists showed how wind currents within the storms moved upward. Once the coiled structure of hurricanes were established by mid-century, the term “cyclone” was applied, based upon the Greek word for the coils of a snake.

After the mid-19th century, scientists moved from information gathering to attempts to predict hurricane strikes. Technology, in the form of the telegraph, was a key component in creating a forecasting system aided by organizations such as the Colegio de Belén, in Havana, Cuba. Later in the century, governments worldwide created official observation networks in which weather reports were radiotelegraphed from ships at sea to stations on land. The 20th century experienced advances, such as the use of kites and balloons, and the introduction of weather reconnaissance aircraft during World War II. In April 1960, the first satellite was launched to observe weather patterns, and by the early 1980s, ocean buoys and sophisticated radar systems made forecasts increasingly more accurate.

What Is a Hurricane?

The climate of the Caribbean basin is tropical or semitropical, and the most emblematic symbol of a tropical climate is the hurricane.1 A hurricane is a large rotating storm that can bring destructive winds, coastal and inland flooding, and torrential rain. In strict terms, scientists call such systems tropical cyclones, but the term “hurricane” (from the Carib word meaning “big wind”) is applied to Atlantic and eastern Pacific systems.2 “Typhoon” (or super typhoon, if the wind exceeds 150 mph) is used for storms that form in the western North Pacific ocean, while the term “cyclone” is given to systems that form in the western South Pacific ocean, the South China Sea, and the ocean regions close to Australia.3

A hurricane begins as a tropical depression, an area of low atmospheric pressure that produces clouds and thunderstorms. Favorable conditions (if ocean waters are warm, for example) fuel the rain system, and the depression can organize itself into a tropical storm. During this process of organization, rotation around a center (eye) begins, the wind speed increases, and the barometric pressure begins to drop.4 Hurricanes are classified according to the maximum wind speed judged by the Saffir-Simpson scale. A disorganized system with wind speeds of 34 mph or less is a tropical depression. If the wind speed reaches or exceeds 35 mph but is less than 74 mph, the system is termed a tropical storm. When wind speed reaches 75 mph or higher, the storm becomes a hurricane. Scientists further classify hurricanes by intensity on a scale of one to five. A “category one” hurricane has wind speeds between 74-95 mph; a category two hurricane has wind speeds between 96-110 mph; a category three storm has winds between 111-129 mph; a category four hurricane has wind speeds between 130-156 mph; and the most intense storms, category five, have wind speeds that exceed 157 mph.5

When a tropical system reaches the wind speed of a tropical storm (35 mph), it is given a name. Until the mid-20th century, hurricanes did not generally have names; if they were called anything at all it was because the hurricane struck on a particular saint’s day, For example the catastrophic hurricane that struck Havana on October 15, 1768, was called the hurricane of Santa Teresa, and one of the Caribbean’s most deadly hurricanes, the hurricane of San Ciriaco, struck Puerto Rico on August 8, 1899, that saint’s day, causing over 3,000 deaths.6 In the 1940s, meteorologists started using women’s and other names (King or Dog, for example) to identify storms, but that was abandoned in 1978, when men’s names were introduced for Pacific storms. In 1979, the practice of alternating men’s names with women’s names began. The governing body that determines which names will be included (in alphabetical order) is the World Meteorological Organization. Lists of names, which are rotated periodically, are specific to certain regions. Separate lists are maintained for the Atlantic basin, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, the central North Pacific Ocean, the western North Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea, and the ocean regions close to Australia. If a storm is responsible for causing a significant number of deaths or property damage (for example, Andrew in 1992, Mitch in 1998, or Katrina in 2005), the name is retired and replaced with another.7

Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30, although there have been infrequent storms that formed outside these dates. Early in the season, the most common points of origin are in the western north Atlantic, in the Caribbean Sea, or in the Gulf of Mexico. As the season progresses, the ocean waters north of the Equator warm sufficiently to support the formation of systems termed Cape Verde hurricanes, named for the islands located off the west coast of Africa. The height of hurricane season occurs between August 15 and September 30, when hurricanes occur most frequently.8

Hurricane Impacts

A hurricane’s impact is most frequently evaluated in negative terms, but it could have just a minimal effect and could even be a positive force.9 To be sure, major catastrophic hurricanes (discussed later) capture the world’s attention, providing subject matter for writers for millennia. Yet, according to the pioneer in historical hurricane studies, Stuart B. Schwartz, “hurricanes are natural phenomena, but they are not natural disasters.”10 Schwartz’s observation echoes the dilemma faced by scholars hoping to understand the importance of extreme events on historical processes yet avoid the hyperbole associated with disaster studies.11 Certainly, a hurricane is a powerful natural event that has the potential to do great damage, but not every hurricane has a negative impact—sometimes not any impact—on the area where it makes landfall, and paradoxically, in some cases, a hurricane strike can actually be beneficial.

Most deaths in a storm come from drowning, from the deadly wall of water along the coast known today as a storm surge, which obliterates everything in its path, or from flooding near the mouth of rivers where the storm surge pushes a wall of seawater upriver. The National Hurricane Center is specific: “storm surge-induced flooding has killed more people in the United States in hurricanes than all other hurricane-related threats (freshwater flooding, winds, and tornadoes) combined since 1900.”12 In addition, torrential rainfall in the interior can cause mudslides that will sweep away populations with little warning. Continuous rainfall eventually saturates the soil to the point that it can absorb no more water. When that happens, rivers rage out of their banks, flooding drowns weakened animals and humans and rips crops out of the soil; when preceded by drought, the raging waters erode the parched earth.13 All combine to destroy subsistence crops. Prior to modern transportation systems, many populations starved to death when emergency provisions did not make it to affected areas in time.14 Storm related deaths also occur when the wind intensifies and sends debris flying through the air, lifts roofs off of houses and topples trees. Deaths occur when structures collapse or when victims are struck by flying debris. In addition to death and damage caused by straight-line wind, tornadoes frequently form within the rain bands that circle within a hurricane. Debris and collapsing structures can lead to many deaths, and infections caused by injuries increases the mortality toll.15

One important underestimated cause of death after the passage of a storm is disease. In the past, official reports only summarized the immediate number deaths from drowning and injuries, while the death toll from dysenteries and fevers was rarely reported because the casualty figures would not be visible until days or weeks later. Until the late-19th century, doctors were unaware of germ theory and believed instead that fevers were caused by miasmas or vapors emanating from stagnant water or air. Physicians and other observers believed that hurricane-force winds actually helped the disease environment by blowing away the noxious vapors.16 Yet even in contemporary catastrophes, such as when Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998, post-disaster epidemics increased the death toll within human and animal populations.17

Even if death or damage is not immediate, the passage of a hurricane can leave significant ecological damage. Near the coast, hurricane-force winds whip the seas into a froth that is driven inland. Contaminated by salt water, the wind-whipped mist burns the foliage off trees and ruins stored water supplies. Dead bodies and animal carcasses contaminate streams and wells, making the water supply undrinkable.18 On the other hand, a hurricane strike can serve as an important cleansing function for the ecosystem, clearing dead or dying branches from trees and other plant life.

Hurricanes can have a devastating effect on a community that takes a direct hit. In the aftermath of a catastrophic storm, even in developed societies, emergency conditions can last for months at a time, making misery and deprivation characteristics of daily life. In populations that are subjected to repeated hurricane strikes without respite, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, “hurricane fatigue,” sets in.19 The resulting depression works against a community’s ability to overcome post-disaster challenges. Conversely, survivors of a disaster are often left with a feeling of confidence that, since they have endured the effects of at least one deadly hurricane, they can do so again. Time and again, survivors relate family tales and folklore, recounting the horrifying effects of one or another hurricane, only to reiterate the resilience of the community in its ability to survive anything that nature might deliver. Out of survival comes a sense of capability; knowing what to do means one might survive a future disaster and cope with its aftermath; and the intangible mentalities associated with being a survivor become ingrained into the collective mentality of the population.20

In addition to the immediate impact on populations and ecosystems that suffer a direct hit, a hurricane strike can have political, social, and economic consequences. The dire conditions of life after a hurricane can cause unrest that can lead to political change, and recent studies demonstrate that disasters in general increase the potential for violent conflict.21 However, the aftermath of a hurricane strike does not necessarily have to become political. The behavior of authorities on all levels determines whether the population will react in a positive or negative way, thus making the disaster the trigger that causes a “critical juncture,” in political events.22 The concepts implicit in critical juncture theory rest upon contingency, that is, acknowledging that many potential paths could be chosen, most of which would lead to different outcomes, some positive, some negative. The choices made by officials on every level, from local to national, play a fundamental role in determining the outcomes of disaster. This is especially true when dealing with the way in which government authorities provide relief and/or distribute emergency provisions in a post-hurricane situation. For example, by the late 18th century, and especially after the storm of 1780, the most deadly hurricane ever to hit the Caribbean, the authorities in London rushed supplies and initiated a program of financial relief; they also mobilized British subjects throughout the empire to send charitable donations to the devastated populations.23 Another important aspect is the degree to which various branches of government cooperate or compete with each other and with nongovernmental entities in the affected area, thus setting an example for the civilian population.

In recent years, the social impact of a hurricane strike has grown in interest in the scholarly community, especially within the context of the social chaos after Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina.24 Especially useful are studies of post-disaster community self-organizing efforts (or lack thereof) and the leveling effect of disaster.25 When an entire community is threatened, social boundaries are set aside as rescue and recovery efforts take priority over the niceties of social ordering. Survivors clinging to the wreckage of their ruined houses care little for the social status or the color of the arm that reaches down to pluck them from the raging current. In other instances, activities, such as smuggling, that may be illegal are tolerated and even encouraged when catastrophe threatens. Just as important, the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted for their actions. To the contrary, many are hailed as folk heroes for risking prosecution to provide for the community’s desperate needs. Greedy speculators, however, who engage in post-hurricane price gouging are excoriated for their unethical practices, and looters are often shot on sight. Just as important, although social boundaries are restored as life returns to normal, a person’s behavior during the emergency never leaves the community’s collective memory.26 Bravery and decisive positive decisions are celebrated in the form of songs, folk tales, and laudatory poetry while thievery, cowardice, and impotence are brought to the community’s attention in lampoons posted in public places and are remembered long after the emergency has passed. A final consideration regarding the social aspect of a hurricane strike is the propensity for unfree populations to take advantage of the post-disaster chaos and attempt to flee. The potential for success depends upon a variety of conditions, including the degree of cooperation and/or conflict between and among the authorities and the local population, and the amount of time the authorities need to bring post-disaster chaos under control.

Among the most important consequences of a hurricane strike are its economic consequences.27 In addition to the loss of life in humans and animals, the infrastructure of a community is often destroyed along with the subsistence crops and harvest for export. For example, three sequential hurricanes in Cuba in the 1840s destroyed the coffee trees and led Cuban planters to abandon coffee cultivation and turn to sugar production.28 This decision had negative consequences for the slave population, who were transferred from the coffee harvests to the backbreaking work of harvesting sugar cane. A related tenet borrowed from interdisciplinary research, is the domino effect of disaster: that is, how crisis in one area creates a domino or ripple effect in other areas. The concept is simple. While some areas or populations suffer after a disaster, others reap the benefits of scarcity and shortages. In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, for months, carloads of workers eager to capitalize on the need for emergency labor could be seen travelling southward on Florida’s highways to south Dade County, along with truckloads of plywood and other building materials. When devastating, sequential hurricanes struck the Hispanic Caribbean in the 1770s, the Spanish government was unable to provide provisions for its starving inhabitants, so the authorities turned to other nations’ colonies for relief. As a consequence, the domino effect stretched to North America, where Philadelphia, the “breadbasket of the colonies,” stepped into the vacuum and sent supplies to the West Indies.29 The domino effect further lends itself well to the principles of transnationality, an analytical tool that deemphasizes artificially created political boundaries and concentrates on forces (social movements, kinship networks, economic connections) that can cross arbitrarily created lines of demarcation. Thus, although so much history is framed in national or imperial terms, simply and obviously, hurricanes and their consequences do not recognize national boundaries. A final consideration of the economic impact of hurricanes is the exponential increase in damage estimates in recent years, which can only grow larger as the population along the coast increases.30

The Development of Hurricane Science

Until the scientific and ideological revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, religion and religious institutions were central to all aspects of life. The overriding belief was that disasters were the will of God, and aside from staying on the good side of the Almighty, there was nothing one could do to prevent hurricanes from striking.31 Priests and other religious practitioners reinforced such beliefs and acted as God’s intermediaries. At the onset of hurricane season, prayers and masses were offered for divine mercy, and after the passage of a storm, similar offerings of thanksgiving were conducted. In times of crisis, the religious community cared for the sick and dying and officiated at the burials of victims. Faith also had its practical side. In many villages, the church was the only substantial structure in the area, and when threatened, the population took refuge there.32

Until the last half of the 18th century, meteorology remained primitive by modern standards.33 Centuries of keen observation meant that mariners understood when dangerous weather systems were imminent. Cloud movement, sea swells, opposing tide and wind patterns, and a brick red sky all gave warning that danger lay ahead.34 On land, residents interpreted animal behavior as a sign of bad weather in the near future.35 Yet residents still lacked the understanding of hurricane formation and movement; not until the following century did the true nature and movement of the deadly storms become clear.

The quickening intellectual climate of the Enlightenment propelled European powers that had colonized the islands of the Caribbean into a competition for knowledge. To this end, each nation sent out teams of explorers to gather scientific information about natural phenomena. These expeditions were not dedicated to the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Instead, the goal was to advance science in the interest of defense to neutralize their enemies’ power and to thwart their expansionistic goals.36 On land, royal bureaucrats were in the vanguard in recording first-hand observations of local conditions, often in conjunction with reporting on enemy troop movements. Governors, provincial officials, and administrators all set about collecting data and contributing their observations about the effects of storms on land and sea. By the 1770s, even in remote hamlets and villages, local officials recorded details about the nature and characteristics of storm movement and forwarded that information to their superior officers. By 1791, constables submitted twice-yearly reports about the state of their jurisdictions. They were charged with commenting specifically about the weather, crop conditions, the potential harvest and the state of “prosperity or misery” of the residents.37

Major beneficiaries of the Enlightenment were the royal navies whose navigation manuals and nautical charts became increasingly more accurate by the end of the 18th century.38 Caribbean ports were closed during the autumnal equinox as a preventative measure, and no ship was permitted to leave until the dangerous season had passed. At the same time, pilots and ship captains were charged with specific regulations to which they were required to adhere. By the mid 1770s, harbor pilots in the Spanish Caribbean port cities operated under strict rules that compelled them to delay departures if traditional wisdom and weather signs warned of danger. After sustaining considerable losses from a series of storms that struck the Caribbean in the 1780s, additional regulations were promulgated for royal transports to avoid being caught in storms at sea.39

The art of navigation was tied closely to advances in meteorology as a science. Harbor pilots, customs officials, ship captains, and common seamen forged ahead with scientific observation of weather phenomena that provided the scientific community with a growing body of knowledge on which to base their theories.40 Although the barometer had been invented in the 17th century, it was not in widespread use even in the late 18th century.41 According to one report, one of the two barometers in use in British America at the time of the Revolution was owned by Thomas Jefferson.42 In 1794, after a particularly devastating hurricane, the local newspaper in Havana celebrated the predictive capabilities of the sole instrument on that Caribbean island.43

As early as 1735, an English observer published a treatise on the nature of winds, but even into the 19th century, learned men believed that the internal structure of hurricanes was made up of straight-line winds.44 One contemporary observer recorded that there would be a calm before the storm, but then the sky would darken much like in a normal afternoon. The telltale warning sign, however, was if the wind came from one direction for a long period of time. If that happened, a hurricane was imminent, and precautions should be taken for survival. Observers were especially interested in drawing comparisons with wind movement in the areas vulnerable to hurricane strikes. Before the circular movement of hurricanes was known, it was thought that the most destructive winds in Cuba came from the north-northeast or the west, while on neighboring Hispaniola, such winds blew in from the south or the west.45

While evidence suggests that, by the early 19th century, the scientific community as a whole was moving towards an understanding of hurricane structure and movement, credit is universally given to William C. Redfield, who, in 1821, established the circular nature of storms and their counterclockwise rotation.46 Redfield’s discovery was controversial, and for several decades thereafter men of science debated his findings.47 In the following years, William Reid showed that the storms in the southern hemisphere move in an opposite direction to those in the northern hemisphere (i.e., clockwise), while James T. Espy showed how wind currents within the storm itself moved upward.48 As the coiled structure of hurricanes became established by mid-century, the term “cyclone” was first applied by Henry Piddington in 1848, from the Greek word that meant the coil of a snake.49

Also in mid-century, Cuban scientist Andrés Poey, collaborating with Redfield, published the most comprehensive synthesis of the knowledge to date: a list of all of previously documented hurricanes. In addition, he supplemented this list with an exhaustive bibliography of 450 secondary sources.50 U.S. naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury plotted the winds and water currents in the North Atlantic basin, and by creating a series of charts that established such currents, he demonstrated how navigators could utilize them to cut the time of their voyages. His method of plotting maritime currents and winds eventually became the universal standard for navigational charts.51 The mid-19th century also saw a shift in the focus of hurricane science. Until the 1850s, scientists sought to establish the nature, formation, and movement of storms. After mid-century, however, scientists moved from information gathering to attempts to predict hurricane strikes. Technology in the form of the telegraph was a key component in creating a forecasting system. In the continental United States, individuals, primarily in the Midwest, collected and sent out observations on local conditions in their areas. These, in turn, were plotted on a series of maps, which then would be used by forecasters to predict the arrival of storms. The pioneer in these predictions was Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, who, in 1856, was the first to collect the telegraphic reports from stations to the west of Washington, DC.52

Until the latter half of the 19th century, efforts to observe and to gather information about hurricanes were primarily a function of volunteers and/or nongovernmental organizations. Premier among such organizations was the observatory at the Jesuit Colegio de Belén in Havana, Cuba. Established in 1857, the Belén Observatory quickly rose to prominence as the most prestigious center for hurricane science in the world, a position that became even more established when Benito Viñes became its director in 1870. Through careful data collection gained by empirical observation, Viñes earned worldwide fame from the time of his appointment to the directorship until his death in 1893.53 Among his accomplishments were verifying Redfield and Reid’s hypotheses concerning hurricane formation and trajectory and proposing laws concerning internal wind currents in a storm.54 By observing cloud movements, he hypothesized that upper level (cirrus) clouds move outward from the center of a storm, and the presence of such clouds could be taken as a warning of a hurricane’s approach. Through such observations, Viñes made the first modern successful prediction of a hurricane that struck Havana in 1875.55 In addition, Viñes established a network of twenty observation stations throughout the Caribbean to send regular daily reports to Havana, which allowed him to formulate his accurate predictions and to save many lives.56

After approximately 1870, governments worldwide began to take the initiative to establish official observation networks. In the United States, such efforts resulted in the creation of the United States Weather Service in 1870, which at the time was under the authority of the Army Signal Corps. Among the pioneer scientists in the early years of the Weather Service was Isaac Monroe Cline, whose historical celebrity comes from his assignment in Galveston, TX as the Weather Service’s officer-on-station when a devastating hurricane struck the city in September 1900, causing over 8,000 deaths. Cline’s experiences in Galveston and his subsequent decades of service in the Weather Service (later Weather Bureau) exemplify the trial-and-error nature of hurricane science at the turn of the century. Cline and other diligent public servants were hampered by political maneuvering and intrigues and no small measure of chauvinism on the part of senior administrators, who directed the efforts at hurricane prediction and post-disaster mitigation from the safety of their own offices in Washington, DC.57

After the close of the Cuban-Spanish-American war of 1898, the United States created a region-wide hurricane warning network in several Caribbean cities, in cooperation with their respective national governments as well as with economic interests such as the United Fruit Company.58 Such efforts were furthered because ships-at-sea radio-telegraphed weather conditions back and forth to each other and to stations on land.59 At the same time, experimentation to learn more about the nature of hurricanes continued with the introduction of kites and balloons to measure internal characteristics of storms, such as temperature, relative humidity, and upper-level winds.60 The concept of weather reconnaissance, flying aircraft into a hurricane, began during World War II and has continued virtually uninterrupted to the present day.61 Hurricane forecasting, using local observations disseminated via telegraph transmissions, that pinpointed the location and movement of storms remained in place until April 1960, when the first satellite was launched to track hurricane movement from miles above the earth. By the 1980s, major advances were made with the implementation of sophisticated radar systems throughout the United States and the launching of buoys that provide data to enhance the reliability of storm forecasting.62 Meteorologists and forecasters at the National Weather Service agree that the effort to warn vulnerable populations of the approach of a storm is the greatest factor is saving lives.

Hurricanes and Climate Oscillations

In recent years, the concept of climate change, properly termed “climate oscillations,” has gained worldwide attention. Most of the discussion centers around the question of warm and cool cycles in the earth’s temperature, which science demonstrates fluctuate over periods as short as a few decades and as long as centuries.63 Given that hurricane formation is dependent upon favorable conditions (i.e., the amount of heat in the ocean), the question of warmer and colder cycles inevitably leads to speculation about the influence of climate on the nature and frequency of storms.

To date, the number of studies that link hurricane activity to climate oscillations are few, and those that seek answers to historical causation are fewer still. Using scientific methodologies, one study demonstrated that warm conditions during medieval times (the Medieval Warm Period, roughly 9th to 13th centuries ce) resulted in the incidence of hurricanes in the Caribbean reaching a peak. The authors attribute this increased activity to the “reinforcing effects of La-Niña-like climate conditions and relative tropical Atlantic warmth.”64 A recent study of a warm anomaly in the 18th century, contextualized within a longer period of cooling (the Little Ice Age, roughly the 15th through the 19th centuries), has linked periods of repeated, severe hurricane strikes in the Caribbean to changing trade patterns in the North Atlantic basin.65

A complementary debate revolves around the phenomenon termed El Niño and its counterpart, alternately termed an anti-Niño, non-Niño or La Niña. The majority of scientists examine the effects of El Niño in the Pacific basin, since this is where the phenomenon originates and where the greatest impact occurs. Nonetheless, according to the most recent research (October 2014), the onset of an El Niño cycle has verifiable effects on the Caribbean. In the words of the National Weather Service: “Tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic is more sensitive to El Niño influences than in any other basin. In years with moderate to strong El Niño, the North Atlantic basin experiences a substantial reduction in cyclone numbers, a 60% reduction in numbers of hurricane days, and an overall reduction in system intensity. This significant change is believed to be due to stronger than normal westerly winds that develop in the western North Atlantic and Caribbean region during El Niño years.”66 Similarly, in a “non-Niño” cycle, during hurricane season the Caribbean can expect to experience a small increase in the number of hurricanes and a small increase in their intensity.67 Over the past decades, the knowledge about the El Niño and La Niña phenomena has grown exponentially, and an increasing number of recent studies have tied climatic activity in the Caribbean to the appearance of one phase of the phenomena or the other.68

Case Studies of Notable Historical Hurricanes

Even before European expansion westward, the destructive power of hurricanes was well known to the indigenous inhabitants of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean islands. When a hurricane approached, the Taino, indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean before the European arrival, abandoned their settlements near the coast and headed inland, taking shelter in the many caves that dot the islands. Columbus had his first encounter with a hurricane in 1494, and in 1502, a storm devastated a Spanish fleet in Santo Domingo carrying royal officials back to Spain. In 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Áviles was able to take advantage of a hurricane that destroyed a French fleet that was bringing settlers and soldiers in an attempt to establish a colony in Florida.69

The deadliest hurricane in the Caribbean in terms of human casualties occurred in October 1780, during the American Revolution. European nations used the Caribbean theater as a staging area and assembled large naval fleets in preparation for attacks on each other’s colonies. In late autumn 1780, the British fleet arrived in Barbados and the French fleet was in Martinique, when the most destructive hurricane to impact the Caribbean made its first landfall in the Lesser Antilles. The British navy suffered significant casualties, and the entire French fleet was lost in the hurricane strike. Numerous other ships, both military and merchant, were caught at sea in the storm. In Barbados, more than 4,000 slaves died immediately, and perhaps 1,000 more perished of disease in the aftermath. To the surprise of eyewitnesses, even well built houses of stone could not withstand the winds. In total, the hurricane of October 10-16, 1780, caused over 20,000 deaths and resulted in incalculable property losses.70

The second deadliest hurricane occurred in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico from October 26 through November 2. Although at its height, it was a category five storm, most casualties and property damage came in the interior from excessive rainfall, which caused floods and mudslides that buried entire villages. The death toll was estimated at a low number of 11,000 and may have reached as high as 19,000. Most confirmed deaths occurred in Honduras (6,500) and Nicaragua (3,800), but many victims were listed as missing, so the actual death toll may never be known. In the aftermath of the storm, diseases such as malaria, dengue, and cholera took even more lives. After exiting Central America, Mitch exited Mexico in the Bay of Campeche, entered the Gulf of Mexico, restrengthened, and went on to strike South Florida on November 4-5, as a tropical storm.71

The hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900, ranks as the third deadliest storm in the Caribbean basin, but it was the deadliest disaster in the United States. This hurricane began its life as a late-season Cape Verde hurricane and travelled across the Atlantic. The Cuban meteorological office warned that a major storm was travelling westward, but the U.S. Weather Bureau believed the hurricane would curve northward. Galveston Island sits on a shallow shelf, thus making it especially vulnerable to storm surge. The island is only 8 feet above sea level, and the surge produced by the storm was estimated to be about 15 feet. The damage to the island’s buildings was catastrophic. The number of deaths is usually placed at 8,000, but estimates range between 6,000 and 12,000 people. Regardless, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 stands as the deadliest disaster in U.S. history.72

Discussion of the Literature

Unlike researchers in other areas of historical inquiry, scholars who choose to study the importance of hurricanes do not have an extensive body of literature upon which to draw. To date, only five scholarly monographs and a handful of articles deal with hurricanes as causal forces in effecting change over time. The five extant books, all published since the year 2000, generally adopt a multidisciplinary approach, but in order to contextualize their work, historians were obligated to rely upon studies of hurricanes from a variety of disciplines.

When hurricanes do impact a population, their effects are often calamitous, leaving deep psychological scars on the victims for generations. Post-disaster reports invariably tell of victims walking through their shattered communities in a “dazed” state.73 Not surprisingly, therefore, hurricanes inevitably have made their way into popular culture. The Taino had a symbol for a hurricane, a rotating circle with tails, which is eerily similar to the universal symbol now used by meteorologists worldwide. Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, was reputedly based upon the 1609 hurricane that drove a ship, the Sea Venture, on shore in Bermuda.74 Zora Neale Hurston was so affected by the 1928 hurricane that hit Lake Okeechobee that she was inspired to write her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the 1900 Galveston hurricane became the inspiration for the book, Isaac’s Storm.75 Indeed, the effect of a hurricane strike has become so ingrained into the collective mentality of the population and so useful as a theme for innumerable books and movies that NOAA has created a webpage specifically dedicated to the topic.76

Yet, until very recently, hurricanes did not generate much interest within the historical profession. For the most part, hurricanes were investigated as discrete events and were almost never considered as being contributors to change over time. Scholars dedicated their efforts to producing lists of hurricanes and their impact on the areas where they struck. Prominent among the 20th-century writers, David Ludlum, Jose Carlos Millás, and José Fernández Partagás all complied lists of hurricane strikes during the historic period in the Americas.77 On one hand, the lists are exhaustive, thorough, and a treasure trove of primary sources where fledgling historians could begin a project. On the other hand, none of these lists went deeper than compilation, although a recent update differentiates between hurricanes that caused the greatest number of human casualties as opposed to hurricanes that caused the greatest amount of property losses.78 For Latin America, the few scholars who linked climate and history, such as Robert Claxton (South America) and Enrique Florescano (Mexico), did so within the context of agricultural history.79

The task of placing hurricanes at the center of analysis fell to geographers, who took the lead after El Niño events struck the north Pacific coast of South America in 1972, and again in 1983. Prominent among the geographers was César Caviedes, who, in 1991, edited a special issue of GeoJournal dedicated to making the connection between the El Niño phenomenon and hurricane frequency in the Caribbean.80 Even in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and the devastation it caused in South Florida in 1992, historians were slow to utilize the consequences of hurricanes as a conceptual framework.

A breakthrough in the historical scholarship came in 1992, when Stuart B. Schwartz examined a catastrophic hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 1899, the hurricane of San Ciriaco. Schwartz was the first to make a connection between a hurricane strike and political processes before and after the extreme weather event.81 At about the same time, Louis A. Pérez Jr., began his investigations into the effects of three major hurricane strikes in Cuba in the 1840s. Pérez’s book, Winds of Change (2001) became the first book-length study of the impact that sequential hurricanes had on social, economic, political, and cultural forces in Cuba. Pérez demonstrated convincingly that hurricanes in 1842, 1844, and 1846 were transformative events that brought about irreversible change to that island.82 The same year, Caviedes released his book-length study of the El Niño phenomenon that studied the connections between hurricanes in the Caribbean as a counterpart to the El Nino cycle elsewhere.83 Roughly contemporaneous to the scholarship on hurricanes in the western hemisphere, scholars in Europe employed a cultural perspective to explore the impact of storms.84 While not strictly about hurricanes, using the methodologies of eco-criticism, Mark D. Anderson examined disasters as a whole in Latin America; contained within his 2011 book is a critical analysis of the 1939 hurricane that struck the Dominican Republic and solidified Rafael Trujillo’s grip on political power.85

By the 2000s, the historical profession awakened to the potential of using extreme weather events as analytical tools, but even at mid-decade, progress was slow. Schwartz again served to influence scholars’ thoughts, lamenting the dearth of historical projects on hurricanes, categorizing the types of studies to date (2005), and offering the cautionary advice introduced earlier.86 Within a few years, three book-length studies were published. In 2006, Matthew Mulcahy took a lengthy chronological approach to the British Caribbean and showed how imperial policy towards managing the aftermath of hurricanes changed over two centuries, from 1642 to the end of the 18th century.87 Although focused upon a single hurricane strike along the coast of Virginia and North Carolina in 1750, which led to the destruction of the Spanish fleet, James A. Lewis (2008) demonstrates the relevance that the storm had on contemporary imperial policy and also its consequences stretching into the 20th century.88 Sherry Johnson studied a series of hurricanes within a fifty-year period in the late 18th century and showed how sequential disasters impacted imperial policies towards war and trade from 1750 through 1800.89 Finally, a long-anticipated book by Schwartz, published in 2015, takes a broad chronological look at Caribbean hurricanes, placing each within its historical context. Schwartz’s book does not simply identify major hurricanes, however; it also integrates the multidisciplinary fundamentals from previous research (disaster relief, transnationality, sociological post-disaster community organizing) and can be considered as textbook reading for any subsequent study of the phenomenon.90

Primary Sources

Because the study of hurricanes is both a historical and scientific endeavor, the first place to begin is on the U.S. National Weather Service website and its many specialized pages, of which only a fraction are listed below. Armed with the most current scientific knowledge about hurricanes, weather, and climate oscillations, the next place to turn could be the national archives of the major colonial powers in the Caribbean (Great Britain, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and later, the United States). Major national archival collections present information on hurricanes from the top-down perspective of administrators, governors, military, and naval personnel. The British national archives in Kew (London) (in the section Major National Archives) offers an online guide to colonial collections that is unequalled in sorting out the myriad of collections relating to colonial affairs. The French overseas archives for the Lesser Antilles and Haiti (OutreMer) are located in Aix-en-Provence. For Spain, the primary repositories for the Caribbean are in Spain in the Archivo de Indias in Seville, the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid, and the Archivo General de Simancas in Simancas. The Netherlands was a major influence in the colonial Caribbean, and its national archive is located in The Hague. For the United States, the National Archives in Washington DC and College Park (with branches throughout the country), as well as the Library of Congress are logical starting points. All of these archives have websites (listed in the section Major National Archives) where researchers can begin their search for primary materials. Within these major repositories, individual collections (such as the Edward Everett Hayden Collection or the Clara Barton Collection in the Library of Congress) are rich sources.

Many a study of particular hurricanes begins with contemporary sources, such as travellers’ accounts, scientific treatises, agricultural diaries, or chronicles, many of which are now available online on Google Books or HathiTrust. Increasingly, individual collections of primary sources are being digitized by enterprises such as Gale Group and ProQuest, and major research libraries offer subscription access to these databases. Researchers without online access to database collections can consult such materials by visiting a major research institution.

Volunteer and/or religious organizations’ records can be useful in determining rescue and relief efforts such as Red Cross records, records of the Episcopal Church, and of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Sermons are popular sources to determine the extent to which news of a particular hurricane spread throughout the Atlantic world. Newspapers picked up accounts of a particular storm, and often the notices were spread verbatim throughout the colonial world. Insurance records, such as those of Lloyds of London, offer information about losses at sea.

Fieldwork in local sources, to gain access to materials that are of no interest to imperial officials, is time consuming but often extremely rewarding. Scanning the death and burial records of a local church, for example, can yield a cluster of burials weeks after a hurricane strike, suggesting that a post-disaster epidemic hit the survivors. Town councils often discussed adverse weather conditions, especially in regard to agricultural conditions, and local records can bring the degree of suffering of a population into sharp focus. Local historical societies often keep extensive records of a local event. For example, the Rosenberg Library in Galveston houses a collection of oral histories and interviews that is unequalled for researching the Galveston hurricane of 1900, and History Miami, the local historical society, holds extensive materials on the hurricane of 1926.

Further Reading

  • Caviedes, César N. “Five Hundred Years of Hurricanes in the Caribbean: Their Relationship with Global Climate Variations.” Geojournal 23 (April 1991): 301–310.
  • Caviedes, César N. El Niño in History: Storming Through the Ages. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.
  • Claxton, Robert H. “Climatic and Human History in Europe and Latin America: An Opportunity for Comparative Study.” Climatic Change 1 (1978): 195–203.
  • Claxton, Robert H. “Climate and History: From Speculation to Systematic Study.” The Historian 45 (February 1983): 220–236.
  • Cline, Isaac Monroe. Storms, Floods and Sunshine: A Book of Memoirs. New Orleans: Pelican, 1945.
  • Gergis, Jöelle L., and Anthony M. Fowler. “A History of ENSO Events since A.D. 1525: Implications for Future Climate Change.” Climate Change 92 (2009): 343–387.
  • Johnson, Sherry. Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Jones, P. D., and M. E. Mann. “Climate Over Past Millenia.” Reviews of Geophysics 42 (2004): 1–42.
  • Larson, Erik, and Isaac Monroe Cline. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. New York: Crown, 1999.
  • Lewis, James A. The Spanish Convoy of 1750: Heaven’s Hammer and International Diplomacy. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008
  • Ludlum, David M. Early American Hurricanes, 1492–1870. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 1963.
  • Mann, Michael E., Jonathan D. Woodruff, Jeffrey P. Donnelly, and Zhihua Zhang. “Atlantic Hurricanes and Climate Over the Past 1,500 Years.” Nature 460 (13 August 2009): 880–885.
  • Millás, José Carlos. Hurricanes of the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions. Miami: Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Americas, 1968.
  • Mulcahy, Matthew. Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624–1783. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Quinn, W. H., and V. T. Neal. “The Historical Record of El Niño Events in Climate Since AD 1500.” In Climate Since AD 1500. Edited by R. Bradley and P. D. Jones. London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Schwartz, Stuart B. “The Hurricane of San Ciriaco: Disaster, Politics, and Society in Puerto Rico, 1899–1901.” Hispanic American Historical Review 72.3 (August 1992): 303–334.
  • Schwartz, Stuart B. “Hurricanes and the Shaping of Circum-Caribbean Societies.” Florida Historical Quarterly 83.4 (Spring 2005): 381–409.
  • Schwartz, Stuart B. Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina (Lawrence Stone Lectures). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.


  • 1. National Weather Service (hereafter NWS), Miami, FL and Ft. Worth TX, “Jetstream—Online School for Weather: Tropical Weather, Introduction.

  • 2. Ivan Ray Tannehill, The Hurricane (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939), 1.

  • 3. NWS, “Jetstream: Tropical Weather, Tropical Cyclone Classification.”

  • 4. NWS National Hurricane Center, (hereafter NHC with appropriate webpage title), “Climatology.”

  • 5. NWS, NHC, “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.” In 2012, the NWS revised the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale measurements, and the preceding statements reflect such revisions.

  • 6. Sherry Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 82–90; Stuart B. Schwartz, “The Hurricane of San Ciriaco: Disaster, Politics, and Society in Puerto Rico, 1899–1901.” Hispanic American Historical Review 72, no. 3 (August 1992), 303–334.

  • 7. NWS, “Jetstream: Tropical Weather, Tropical Cyclone Names.” See also the NOAA Web site and The World Meterological Organization Web site.

  • 8. NWS, NHC, Climatology.

  • 9. Richard Stuart Olson and Vincent T. Gawronski. “Disasters as Crisis Triggers for National Critical Junctures? The 1976 Guatemala Case,” Paper presented at the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies Meeting, San Jose, Costa Rica, 2007, 33.

  • 10. Stuart B. Schwartz, “Hurricanes and the Shaping of Circum-Caribbean Societies.” Florida Historical Quarterly 83, no. 4 (Spring 2005), 381–409.

  • 11. P. D. Jones and M. E. Mann, “Climate Over Past Millenia,” Reviews of Geophysics 42 (2004), 1–42; Christian Pfister, et al., “Documentary Evidence as Climate Proxies,” White paper written for the Proxy Uncertainty Workshop, Trieste, June 2008; Andrew Selkirk, “The Last Word on Climate Change,” Current Archaeology (May 2010), 48–49.

  • 12. NWS, NHC, “Storm Surge Overview.”

  • 13. NWS, NHC, “Hurricane Flooding: A Deadly Inland Danger.”

  • 14. Richard B. Sheridan, “The Crisis of Slave Subsistence in the British West Indies During the American Revolution.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 33, no. 4 (October 1976), 615–641; Matthew Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624–1783 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 77–82, 104–116. The consequences of post-hurricane shortages form the basis of Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, passim.

  • 15. NWS, NHC, Hurricane Life Cycle and Hazards.

  • 16. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 17–19.

  • 17. NWS, NCDC, “Mitch: The Deadliest Hurricane Since 1780.”

  • 18. NWS, NHC, Hurricane Life Cycle and Hazards, 2013.

  • 19. Richard Gist and Bernard Lubin, Psychological Aspects of Disaster (New York: Wiley, 1989).

  • 20. Jon W. Anderson, “Cultural Adaptation to Threatened Disaster,” Human Organization 27 (Winter 1968), 300–305; Louis A. Pérez, Jr. argues that Cuban resilience in the 19th century is so powerful that it “insinuates into the calculus of nation”; Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth-Century Cuba (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 140, 146, 155.

  • 21. Philip Nel and Marjolein Righarts, “Natural Disasters and the Risk of Violent Civil Conflict,” International Studies Quarterly 52, no. 1 (March 2008), 159–185.

  • 22. Giovanni Capoccia and R. Daniel Keleman, “The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism,” World Politics 59, no. 3 (2007), 341–369; Richard Stuart Olson and Vincent T. Gawronski, “Disasters as Critical Junctures? Managua, Nicaragua 1972, and Mexico City 1985.” International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 21, no. 1 (March 2003), 5–35.

  • 23. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 141–188.

  • 24. Walter Gillis Peacock, Betty Hearn Morrow, and Hugh Gladwin, eds. Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender, and the Sociology of Disasters (London and New York: Routledge, 1997); Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires. There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina (New York: Routledge, 2006); Vincanne Adams, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013); Gary A. Kreps, ed. Social Structure and Disaster (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989); Gary A. Kreps, “Sociological Inquiry and Disaster Research.” Annual Review of Sociology 10 (1984), 309–330; Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr., and Asterie Baker Provenzo. In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002); Anthony Oliver Smith, “Anthropological Research on Hazards and Disasters,” Annual Review of Anthropology 25 (1996), 303–328, “Theorizing Disasters: Nature, Power, and Culture,” in Catastrophe & Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster. Edited by Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver Smith (Oxford: Currey, 2002), 23–47.

  • 25. Olson and Gawronski, “Disasters as Crisis Triggers,” 10–11

  • 26. Christian Pfister, “Learning from Nature-Induced Disasters: Theoretical Considerations and Case Studies from Western Europe,” in Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History, edited by Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2009), 17–40.

  • 27. Richard Lobdell, “Economic Consequences of Hurricanes in the Caribbean.” Review of Latin American Studies 3, no. 2 (1990), 178–196.

  • 28. Pérez, Jr., Winds of Change.

  • 29. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe; “El Niño, Environmental Crisis, and the Emergence of Alternative Markets in the Hispanic Caribbean 1760s-1770s.” William & Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 62 (July 2005), 365–410; “The Rise and Fall of Creole Participation in the Cuban Slave Trade, 1789–1796.” Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos 30 (2000), 52–75.

  • 30. Eric S. Blake, Christopher W. Landsea, and Ethan J. Gibney, “The Deadliest, Costliest, And Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 To 2010 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts)” (Miami: National Weather Service National Hurricane Center, 2011).

  • 31. Richard Stuart Olson, “Towards a Politics of Disaster: Losses, Values, Agendas, and Blame,” International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 18, no. 2 (August 2000), 267–268. Olson’s typology of the “blame game” identifies this approach as the loss of the mandate of heaven; Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 34–41; Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 11–12.

  • 32. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 34–41; Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 11–12.

  • 33. From the time of the order’s founding in the 16th century, the Jesuits were in the vanguard in promoting meteorological observations. See Agustín Udías, “Jesuits’ Contribution to Meteorology,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 77, no. 10 (October 1996), 2311–2313.

  • 34. Tannehill, Hurricane, 8.

  • 35. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 51–53; Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 12–13.

  • 36. Robert S. Weddle, Changing Tides: Twilight and Dawn in the Spanish Sea, 1763–1803 (College Station, TX: A & M University Press, 1995); Jorge Cañizares-Esquerra, Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006); Manuel Casado Arbonés, “Bajo el signo de la militarización: Las primeras expediciones científicas ilustradas a América (1735–1761),” in La ciencia española en ultramar. Actas de las I Jornadas sobre “España y las expediciones científicas en América y Filipinas, “ Alejandro R. Díez Torre, Tomás Malló, Daniel Pacheco Fernández, y Angeles Alonzo Flecha, coords. (Madrid: Doce Calles, 1991). 19–47.

  • 37. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 22–32; Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 13–14.

  • 38. Weddle, Changing Tides, passim.

  • 39. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 13–14.

  • 40. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 13–14.

  • 41. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society, 52–53.

  • 42. Willis L. Moore, “The Beginning of the Weather Bureau,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society 20 (1917), 237–240.

  • 43. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 185.

  • 44. Moore, “Beginning of the Weather Bureau,” 238.

  • 45. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, 13–14.

  • 46. Theory of Storms by Redfield, Reid, Espy, and Loomis,” North American Review 58, no. 123 (April 1844), 335–371; Andrés Poey “A Chronological Table, Comprising 400 Cyclonic Hurricanes Which Have Occurred in the West Indies and in the North Atlantic within 362 Years, from 1493 to 1855; With a Bibliographical List of 450 Authors, Books, &c., and Periodicals, Where Some Interesting Accounts May be Found, Especially on the West and East Indian Hurricanes,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 25 (1855), 291–328; Moore, “Beginning of the Weather Bureau,” 238–239; Stuart B. Schwartz, Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina. Lawrence Stone Lectures. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). Provides a summary of the development of hurricane science, 139–144.

  • 47. The debate is the subject of the article in the North American Review, “Theory of Storms,” 335–371.

  • 48. Ibid., 341–344.

  • 49. Poey, “Chronological Table,” 291, n. 1.

  • 50. Poey, “A Chronological Table,” 291–328. See also José Fernández Partagás, “Poey, Viñes y Millás: contribuyentes de Cuba al conocimiento básico de la meteorología.” Manuscript, Cuban Heritage Collection, Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections, University of Miami, Miami, FL.

  • 51. Moore, “Beginning of the Weather Bureau,” 239.

  • 52. Moore, “Beginning of the Weather Bureau,” 239; Edmund P. Willis and William H. Hooke, “Cleveland Abbe and American Meteorology, 1871–1901,” Bulletin of the American Meteoroligical Society 87 (2006), 315–326.

    For similar practices in the British Empire see Katharine Anderson, Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

  • 53. Udías, “Jesuits’ Contribution to Meteorology,” 2311–2313; Fernández Partagás, “Poey, Viñes y Millás.”

  • 54. Benito Viñes, Investigaciones relativas a la circulación y traslación ciclónica en los huracanes de las Antillas (Habana, Imprenta del Avisador Comercial, 1895, facsimile ed. Miami: Editorial Cubana, 1993).

  • 55. Udías, “Jesuits’ Contribution to Meteorology,” 2311–2313.

  • 56. Ibid.

  • 57. Isaac Monroe Cline, Storms, Floods and Sunshine; A Book of Memoirs (New Orleans: Pelican, 1945), 64–69, 92–102, 140–146; Erik Larson and Isaac Monroe Cline, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (New York: Crown Publishers, 1999), especially 246–254; Moore, “Beginning of the Weather Bureau”; Willis and Hooke, “Cleveland Abbe and American Meteorology.”

  • 58. West Indian Service,” Monthly Weather Report 26, no. 7 (July 1898), 303; “Establishment of the Martinique Weather Service,” Monthly Weather Report 29, no 11 (November 1901), 512.

  • 59. Cline, Storms, Floods and Sunshine, 145–152.

  • 60. NWS, Russell Pfost and Pablo Santos, “History of the National Weather Service Forecast Office, Miami, FL.”

  • 61. Hurricane Hunter Association, “The History of the Hurricane Hunters.”

  • 62. See NOAA’s page celebrating 200 years of service.

  • 63. The best source of information on historical climate oscillations is the National Climate Data Center’s Paleoclimatology Web site.

  • 64. Michael E. Mann, Jonathan D. Woodruff, Jeffrey P. Donnelly, and Zhihua Zhang, “Atlantic Hurricanes and Climate Over the Past 1,500 Years,” Nature 460 (13 August 2009), 880–885.

  • 65. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe, passim.

  • 66. NWS, Jetstream: The Online Weather School. Weather Impacts of ENSO.

  • 67. Ibid.

  • 68. Jöelle L. Gergis, and Anthony M. Fowler, “A History of ENSO Events since A.D. 1525: Implications for Future Climate Change,” Climate Change 92 (2009), 343–387; César N. Caviedes,” El Niño in History: Storming Through the Ages. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001; César N. Caviedes,” El Niño 1972: Its Climatic, Ecological, Human, and Economic Implications,” Geographical Review 65, no. 4 (October 1975), 493–509; “Five Hundred Years of Hurricanes in the Caribbean: Their Relationship with Global Climate Variations,” Geojournal 23 (April 1991), 301–310; W. H. Quinn, and V. T. Neal. “The Historical Record of El Niño Events. in Climate Since AD 1500.” in Climate Since AD 1500 Database, edited by R. Bradley. NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Boulder CO.

  • 69. José Carlos Millás, Hurricanes of the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (Miami: Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Americas, 1968), 300; Edward N. Rappaport, and José Fernández-Partagás, “The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492-Present,” National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • 70. Millas, Hurricanes of the Caribbean, Mulcahy, 107–115.

  • 71. NWS, NCDC, “Mitch: The Deadliest Hurricane Since 1780.”

  • 72. Cline, Storms, Floods, and Sunshine, Larson, Isaac’s Storm, Rappaport and Fernández Partagás, “Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones.”

  • 73. Jeffrey P. Staab, Thomas A. Grieger, Carol S. Fullerton, and Robert J. Ursano. “Acute Stress Disorder, Subsequent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Depression After a Series of Typhoons.” Anxiety 2, no. 5 (1996), 219–225.

  • 74. William Shakespeare, The Tempest (London: Dent, 1935).

  • 75. Zora Neale Hurston, Mary Helen Washington, and Henry Louis Gates. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel (New York: HarperCollins, 2000); Larson and Cline. Isaac’s Storm.

  • 76. NOAA, “What fictional books, plays, poems, and movies have been written involving tropical cyclones?.”

  • 77. David M. Ludlum, Early American Hurricanes, 1492–1870 (Boston: American Meteorological Society, 1963); Millás, Hurricanes of the Caribbean; Rappaport, and Fernández-Partagás, “The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones.”

  • 78. Eric S. Blake, Christopher W. Landsea, and Ethan J. Gibney, The Deadliest, Costliest, And Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 To 2010 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts) (Miami: National Weather Service National Hurricane Center, 2011).

  • 79. Robert H. Claxton, “Climate and History: From Speculation to Systematic Study.” The Historian 45 (February 1983), 220–236; Robert H. Claxton and A. D. Hecht, “Climatic and Human History in Europe and Latin America: An Opportunity for Comparative Study.” Climatic Change 1 (1978), 195–203; Enrique Florescano, Precios de maíz y crisis agrícola en México (1708–1810) (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1969).

  • 80. Caviedes,” El Niño 1972,” “Five Hundred Years of Hurricanes in the Caribbean.”

  • 81. Schwartz, “The Hurricane of San Ciriaco,” 303–334.

  • 82. Pérez, Jr. Winds of Change.

  • 83. César N. Caviedes,” El Niño in History: Storming Through the Ages (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001).

  • 84. Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, eds. Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2009); Christian Pfister, “Learning from Nature-Induced Disasters: Theoretical Considerations and Case Studies from Western Europe,” Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, eds. Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses, 17–40.

  • 85. Mark D. Anderson, Disaster Writing: The Cultural Politics of Catastrophe in Latin America (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011).

  • 86. Schwartz, “Hurricanes and the Shaping of Circum-Caribbean Societies.” 381–409, identifies four categories of scholarship: sociological studies of the aftermath of hurricanes; risk management, mitigation, and resilience; climatology; and the minimal number of historical studies.

  • 87. Mulcahy, Hurricanes and Society.

  • 88. James A. Lewis, The Spanish Convoy of 1750: Heaven’s Hammer and International Diplomacy (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008).

  • 89. Johnson, Climate and Catastrophe.

  • 90. Stuart B. Schwartz, Sea of Storms.