Great Hurricane of 1780

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Great Hurricane of 1780
Hurricane San Calixto [1]
Great Hurricane of the Antilles [1]
Great Hurricane (1780) areas affected.png
Areas affected by the hurricane (excluding Bermuda)
FormedOctober 9, 1780 (1780-10-09)
DissipatedOctober 20, 1780 (1780-10-21)
Highest windsGusts:200 mph (325 km/h)
(Deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record)
Areas affected Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Bermuda, possibly East Florida and some U.S. states
Part of the 1780 Atlantic hurricane season

The Great Hurricane of 1780, also known as Huracán San Calixto, the Great Hurricane of the Antilles, and the 1780 Disaster, [1] [2] is the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Between 20,000 and 24,000 people died throughout the Lesser Antilles when the storm passed through them from October 10–16. [3] Specifics on the hurricane's track and strength are unknown because the official Atlantic hurricane database goes back only to 1851. [4]

Atlantic hurricane tropical cyclone that forms in the North Atlantic Ocean

An Atlantic hurricane or tropical storm is a tropical cyclone that forms in the Atlantic Ocean, usually between the months of June and November. A hurricane differs from a cyclone or typhoon only on the basis of location. A hurricane is a storm that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.

Lesser Antilles Archipelago in the Southeast Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most form a long, partly volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America. The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Together, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles compose the Antilles. When combined with the Lucayan Archipelago, all three are known as the West Indies.

Atlantic hurricane season tropical cyclone season

The Atlantic hurricane season is the period in a year when hurricanes usually form in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic are called hurricanes, tropical storms, or tropical depressions. In addition, there have been several storms over the years that have not been fully tropical and are categorized as subtropical depressions and subtropical storms. Even though subtropical storms and subtropical depressions are not technically as strong as tropical cyclones, the damages can still be devastating.


The hurricane struck Barbados likely as a Category 5 hurricane, with at least one estimate of 1-minute sustained wind speeds as high as 200 mph (320 km/h) [5] (greater than any in recorded Atlantic basin history) before moving past Martinique, Saint Lucia, and Sint Eustatius, and causing thousands of deaths on those islands. Coming in the midst of the American Revolution, the storm caused heavy losses to the British fleet contesting for control of the area, largely weakening British control over the Atlantic. The hurricane later passed near Puerto Rico and over the eastern portion of Hispaniola, causing heavy damage near the coastlines. It ultimately turned to the northeast and was last observed on October 20 southeast of Atlantic Canada.

Barbados country in the Caribbean

Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of North America. It is 34 kilometres in length and up to 23 km (14 mi) in width, covering an area of 432 km2 (167 sq mi). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 km (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, Barbados is east of the Windwards, part of the Lesser Antilles, roughly at 13°N of the equator. It is about 168 km (104 mi) east of both the countries of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km (250 mi) north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados is outside the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Its capital and largest city is Bridgetown.

Martinique Overseas region and department in France

Martinique is an insular region of France located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of 1,128 square kilometres (436 sq mi) and a population of 376,480 inhabitants as of January 2016. Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. One of the Windward Islands, it is directly north of Saint Lucia, southeast of Greater Antilles, northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica.

Saint Lucia country in the Caribbean

Saint Lucia is a sovereign island country in the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. The island was previously called Iyonola, the name given to the island by the native Amerindians and later, Hewanorra, the name given by the native Caribs. Part of the Lesser Antilles, it is located north/northeast of the island of Saint Vincent, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. It covers a land area of 617 km2 and reported a population of 165,595 in the 2010 census. Its capital is Castries.

The death toll from the Great Hurricane alone exceeds that of many entire decades of Atlantic hurricanes. Estimates are marginally higher than for Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic storm, for which figures are likely more accurate. The hurricane was part of the disastrous 1780 Atlantic hurricane season, with two other deadly storms occurring in October. [3]

Hurricane Mitch Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in 1998

Hurricane Mitch was the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, causing over 11,000 fatalities in Central America, with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras alone due to the catastrophic flooding it wrought, due to the slow motion of the storm. It was the deadliest hurricane in Central America, surpassing Hurricane Fifi–Orlene, which killed slightly fewer people there in 1974. The thirteenth named storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, and after drifting through extremely favorable conditions, it rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status, the highest possible rating on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. After drifting southwestward and weakening, the hurricane hit Honduras as a minimal hurricane. Mitch drifted through Central America, regenerated in the Bay of Campeche, and ultimately struck Florida as a strong tropical storm. It then became extratropical and accelerated northeastward across the North Atlantic, before dissipating on November 9. At the time, Mitch was the strongest Atlantic hurricane observed in the month of October, though it has since been surpassed by Hurricane Wilma of the 2005 season. In addition, Mitch is the eighth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.

The 1780 Atlantic hurricane season ran through the summer and fall in 1780. The 1780 season was extraordinarily destructive, and was the deadliest Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history with over 28,000 deaths. Four different hurricanes, one in June and three in October, caused at least 1,000 deaths each; this event has never been repeated and only in the 1893 and 2005 seasons were there two such hurricanes. The season also had the deadliest Atlantic hurricane of all time, the Great Hurricane of 1780.

Meteorological history

Warehouses on the beach of St. Eustatius were damaged by the hurricane. Great hurricane of 1780 Sint Eustatius.jpg
Warehouses on the beach of St. Eustatius were damaged by the hurricane.

This hurricane was first encountered by a boat in the eastern Caribbean Sea, but it probably developed in early October in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off the Cape Verde Islands. The system strengthened and expanded as it tracked slowly westward and first began affecting Barbados late on October 9. Late on October 10, the worst of the hurricane passed over the island, with at least one estimate of 1-minute sustained wind speeds as high as 200 mph (320 km/h) during landfall, [5] which is higher than any other 1-minute sustained wind speed in recorded Atlantic basin history. Early on October 11, the hurricane turned north-northwest about 90 kilometres (56 mi) east of Saint Lucia, and later that night it neared the island of Martinique. The cyclone gradually weakened as it passed to the southwest of Dominica early on October 12 and subsequently struck the island of Guadeloupe. [2]

Dominica country in the Caribbean

Dominica, officially the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an island country in the West Indies. The capital, Roseau, is located on the western side of the island. It is part of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The island is located near Guadeloupe to the northwest and Martinique to the south-southeast. Its area is 750 km2 (290 sq mi), and the highest point is Morne Diablotins, at 1,447 m (4,747 ft) in elevation. The population was 71,293 at the 2011 census. The Commonwealth of Dominica is one of the Caribbean's few republics.

Guadeloupe Overseas region and department in France

Guadeloupe is an overseas region of France in the Caribbean. It consists of six inhabited islands, Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes, as well as many uninhabited islands and outcroppings.

After hitting Guadeloupe, the hurricane turned west-northwest, passing about 145 kilometres (90 mi) southwest of Saint Kitts. The hurricane steadily neared Puerto Rico as it paralleled the southern coastline, and on October 14 made its closest point of approach, to the southwest portion of the island. It subsequently turned to the northwest, going through the Mona Passage before making landfall near the present-day Dominican Republic province of Samaná. Late on October 15, it reached the Atlantic Ocean and after passing about 260 kilometres (160 mi) east of Grand Turk Island; it is estimated to have recurved to the northeast. The hurricane passed 240 kilometres (150 mi) southeast of Bermuda on October 18, [2] and was last observed two days later about 475 kilometres (295 mi) southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada. [6]

Saint Kitts island in Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts, also known more formally as Saint Christopher Island, is an island in the West Indies. The west side of the island borders the Caribbean Sea, and the eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean. Saint Kitts and the neighbouring island of Nevis constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Saint Kitts and Nevis are separated by a shallow 3-kilometre (2 mi) channel known as "The Narrows".

Puerto Rico Unincorporated territory of the United States

Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and briefly called Porto Rico, is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the northeast Caribbean Sea, approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Miami, Florida.

Mona Passage strait

The Mona Passage is a strait that separates the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The Mona Passage connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and is an important shipping route between the Atlantic and the Panama Canal.

On October 19, strong winds and high tides were reported in the British province of East Florida (the northeastern portion of present-day Florida). One modern historian suggests the hurricane passed much closer to the province than previously thought.[ who? ] Another possibility considered was an extension to a hurricane in the western Caribbean Sea. Because of lack of data, the exact track of the Great Hurricane is unknown. [7]

East Florida was a colony of Great Britain from 1763 to 1783 and a province of Spanish Florida from 1783 to 1821. East Florida was founded as a colony by the British colonial government in 1763; it consisted of peninsular Florida, with its western boundary at the Apalachicola River. Its capital was St. Augustine, which had been the capital of Spanish La Florida.

Florida State of the United States of America

Florida is the southernmost contiguous state in the United States. The state is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the northwest by Alabama, to the north by Georgia, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the south by the Straits of Florida. Florida is the 22nd-most extensive, the 3rd-most populous, and the 8th-most densely populated of the U.S. states. Jacksonville is the most populous municipality in the state and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. The Miami metropolitan area is Florida's most populous urban area. Tallahassee is the state's capital.


The hurricane killed 20,000 to 24,000 people, making it the deadliest hurricane in the recorded history of the Atlantic hurricane basin. [2] [3]

British islands

About 4,500 people died on Barbados. [8] The hurricane began affecting the island with rain late on October 9. The ships in the bay broke their moorings by 4:00 the afternoon of October 10, and the full impact arrived around 6:00 in the evening. The hurricane produced violent winds "so deafening that people could not hear their own voices."

... a dreadful hurricane which began to rage with great fury at noon [the 10th] and continue with great violence till four o'clock the next morning, the 11th; At eight o'clock at night St. Thomas's parsonage was demolished and the church where the Rector and his family sought shelter began to fall about two hours after, the Chancel fell while the family were in the church ... St. Thomas's Chapel, St. Michael's, St. George's, Christ Church's and St. Lucy's churches were totally destroyed, the other churches were severely 'injured' (except St. Peter's and St. Philip's). Because of the demolition of the parish church and chapel[,] 'divine services' continued in the 'boiling house' at the 'Rock Hall' estate of Thomas Harper by Rev Wm Duke and curate Hugh Austin of St Thomas. Most other buildings and works were blown down and many lives were lost. The dead could not be brought to a church so were buried in gardens and private land. [9]

The hurricane stripped the bark off trees and left none standing on Barbados. [2] Cuban meteorologist José Carlos Millás has estimated that this damage could be caused only by winds exceeding 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). [8] Every house and fort on Barbados was destroyed. [2] According to British Admiral George Brydges Rodney, the winds carried their heavy cannons aloft 100 feet (30 m).

The wind directions recorded during the hurricane suggest that the eye missed Barbados to the north. Northwesterly winds increased through the day on October 10. The wind gradually backed to westerly through the night of October 10 and peaked at midnight. Wind speed returned to normal by 8:00 the morning of October 11. [2]

Strong winds affected Antigua and Saint Kitts, with many ships in Saint Kitts washed ashore. At Grenada, nineteen Dutch ships were wrecked.

The hurricane later grounded 50 ships near Bermuda.

Deadliest Atlantic hurricanes
1 "Great Hurricane" 1780 22,000–27,501
2 Mitch 1998 11,374+
3 Fifi 1974 8,210–10,000
4 "Galveston" 1900 8,000–12,000
5 Flora 1963 7,193
6 "Pointe-à-Pitre" 1776 6,000+
7 "Okeechobee" 1928 4,112+
8 "Newfoundland" 1775 4,000–4,163
9 "Monterrey" 1909 4,000
10 "Dominican Republic" 1930 2,000–8,000
See also: List of deadliest Atlantic hurricanes

French islands

The hurricane produced a 25-foot (7.6 m) storm surge on Martinique, destroying all houses in Saint-Pierre and causing 9,000 deaths. A storm surge also struck the south coast of Guadeloupe and caused considerable damage.

In Saint Vincent, the hurricane destroyed 584 of the 600 houses in Kingstown.

On Saint Lucia, rough waves and a strong storm tide struck the fleet of Admiral Rodney at Port Castries, with one ship destroying the city's hospital after being lifted on top of it. The hurricane destroyed all but two houses in Port Castries, and about 6,000 perished on the island. [2]

High winds, heavy rains, and storm surge caused severe damage at Roseau in Dominica.

Dutch islands

A Dutch sea-officer was on a ship that was blown from Sint Eustatius to Martinique. When he returned to Sint Eustatius, he reported on the damage in Saint-Pierre, Martinique, Saint Vincent, and St. Lucia. He said that on Sint Eustatius, "some houses are destroyed" and merchandise left on the beach was ruined by sea water. He did not mention a dramatic death toll on the island. He also said that the situation there was not as bad as on the French and English islands. [10]

Spanish islands

Heavy damage was reported in southern Puerto Rico, primarily in Cabo Rojo and Lajas. Severe damage also occurred in the eastern region of the Captaincy General of Santo Domingo.

Losses by the Royal Navy

Among the ships lost from Rodney's fleet were the frigates HMS Phoenix, which was wrecked on the Cuban coast, and HMS Blanche, which disappeared without a trace. The sixth rate frigates HMS Andromeda and HMS Laurel were wrecked on Martinique with heavy loss of life. By far the worst losses in the British fleet, however, were under the command of Vice Admiral Peter Parker and Rear-Admiral Joshua Rowley. At the time of the hurricane, Rowley was off the coast of New York with a portion of the fleet, including HMS Sandwich. Parker was in Port Royal, Jamaica. Many of their ships, however, were in the hurricane's path. Among the losses were HMS Thunderer, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Scarborough, HMS Barbados, HMS Deal Castle, HMS Victor, and HMS Endeavour. Almost all of their crews died. Seven other ships were dismasted. [11] [12] :58

Losses by French navy

A fleet of 40 French ships involved in the American Revolutionary War was struck off Martinique during the hurricane. Several hundred soldiers and about 9,000 civilians died, but among the French military losses was only the frigate Junon. [12] :114


The storm was named the San Calixto hurricane in Puerto Rico because the eye of the cyclone made landfall there on October 14, the Christian feast day of Pope Callixtus I, venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Callixtus ("San Calixto" in Spanish). [1] Since European arrival in the Americas in 1492, all storms and hurricanes were named after the name of the saint of the day the storm hit Puerto Rico; for example, the 1867 San Narciso hurricane, the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane, the 1928 San Felipe hurricane, and the 1932 San Ciprian hurricane were also named after the feast day on which they occurred. [13]

In 1953, the United States Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) started naming hurricanes by female human names until 1978, when both gender names began to be used after control over naming was relinquished to the World Meteorological Organization. Yet it was only in 1960 that hurricanes stopped being officially named after saints in Puerto Rico; the only two cyclones to ever have both an official woman name and an informal saint name were Hurricane Betsy (Santa Clara, August 12, 1956) and Hurricane Donna (San Lorenzo, September 5, 1960). [1]

See also

Further reading

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