Quakefinder Blog

QuakeFinder 3rd Quarter Newsletter

History of Hurricane Forecasting, Part 1.

This newsletter is a continuation of our series of studies into the history of weather and natural disaster forecasting. The intent of these studies is to understand the pioneering efforts of those who brought us these capabilities, the often-messy process of discovery, the societal reaction and impacts of forecasting, the resistance of establishment naysayers, and all the setbacks and triumphs along the way. QuakeFinder seeks to enable an earthquake forecasting system and gathering these lessons-learned from history will help guide us on our quest. The following article is a look into the early history of hurricane forecasting.

Do you know the first recorded hurricane forecast was made by Christopher Columbus? Within 10 years after the discovery of the New World, he had made four cross-Atlantic exploration journeys and as a result had gained unique experience in tropical Atlantic weather. While 15th century sailors knew of gale force storms in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, those 100 mph winds were nothing compared to the 150+ mph wind storms of the Caribbean. Columbus knew first hand the power of the ‘tempest’ storms having lost 2 of his 3 ships near Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti &Dominican Republic) during his second voyage. And he knew some of the early warning signs – a brick-red horizon, shifting winds and a rising swell. On his fourth trip in 1502 before a planned return to Spain, he warned the ruling Governor (and rival for the Queen’s attention) of an approaching large storm from the southeast. The fleet of 30 ships ignored the warning and set sail while Columbus and his four ships sheltered on the west side of the island. Two days later the hurricane hit and sunk 21 of the traversing vessels killing over 500 sailors. Columbus’ ships were unharmed.

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