Saturday, May 05, 2018


Hurricane season precautionary reading...

As the 2018 hurricane season rapidly approaches, I delve into the past. In particular, I'm motivated to recall the introduction to my late father's doctoral dissertation (it is worth noting that his description differs somewhat from historical reports):

On the eleventh of September, 1928, the radio operator of the freighter "Commack" wired a message describing a well-formed tropical disturbance which had been located at longitude 50 ° W., and latitude 15° N. This was the first notice concerning a large and powerful hurricane which was moving across the middle Atlantic from the direction of the Cape Verde Islands. On the following day this hurricane broke with savage fury across the feeble land barrier of islands separating the Caribbean from the Atlantic. The center of the hurricane passed slowly over the northern part of the French island of Guadeloupe during the morning of the twelfth. It was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at a speed of about ten miles an hour. Not only Guadeloupe but also St. Kitts and Montserrate informed the outside world of the great damage of property and high loss of life occasioned by the creature of nature.

Another freighter, "Matura," out of Trinidad, found itself in the path of the winds and registered a low barometer reading of 27.50 at sea level. The position of the ship when taking this reading was about ten miles to the south of St. Croix, one of the largest of the Virgin Islands. The storm kept to its west-northwest course and penetrated into the island of Puerto Rico at the southeast corner near the town of Guayama early in the morning of the thriteenth of September. Moving at a speed of about 13 miles per hour, the storm, known as San Felipe by the Puerto Ricans, ripped the island diagonally from its southeast corner to the northwest area between Isabela and Aguadilla.

From Puerto Rico the storm moved on to the north of Santo Domingo and into the Bahamas, passing south of Nassau and Turk Islands. Finally on the morning of the sixteenth it entered Florida near West Palm Beach. Here it changed direction and moved northward. Spending its force as it advanced up the Atlantic coast, it disappeared finally around Lake Ontario. However, in Florida, particularly in the Lake Okeechobee area, it did a great deal of damage. The losses were calculated in the thousands of dollars and the Red Cross estimated that nearly two thousand people lost their lives in the storm.

This hurricane has been regarded as one of the strongest to sweep across the West Indies. Its intensity did not diminish from the time it broke into the Caribbean until the seventeenth, five days later, when it was moving up the Atlantic coast. All authorities on the tropical storms which have hit Puerto Rico agree that San Felipe was the most powerful in modern times. The strength of its winds as it passed through Puerto Rico is doubtful, because the cups of the anemometer were carried off with the fury of the high winds which lashed the island. The estimate of the velocity of these winds varied from 160 to 190 miles an hour over the period of three to four hours during which the storm was at its peak. San Felipe was accompanied by heavy rains. In the mountainous area of Adjuntas, where heavy rain can normally be expected, the questionable reading of 29.6 inches for a 48 hour period was recorded.

The loss of life and property in Puerto Rico was high. Over 300 persons lost their lives. Without the radio warnings, many more would have perished. Property damage was difficult to estimate. Calculations varied from $50 million to $85 million. The impoverished little island, ... was little prepared to meet such a catastrophe.

...from Mathews, Thomas G., Puerto Rican Politics and the New Deal, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1960: pp. 1-2.


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