The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492-1996
- Tropical Cyclone Terminology
- Casualty Information
- Storm Lists and Statistics
- Acknowledgements and References
- Appendix 1: Cyclones with 25+ deaths
- Appendix 2: Cyclones that may have 25+ deaths
- Notes to the Appendices
- References to the Appendices
4. Storm Lists and Statistics
The catalog consists of two parts.
identifies Atlantic tropical
cyclones documented as causing at least 25 deaths.
Appendix 2 lists additional cases where the
records suggest that the 25 count threshold may have been reached.
Storms causing at least 25 deaths
contains three columns of information about each of
260 cases. The first column indicates the areas that experienced
the greatest number of deaths. For events after 1949, it also
contains the name of the cyclone. The second column provides the
approximate range of dates4 for the losses.
The third column gives the total number of deaths and the source(s) of the
information. (We note that some of these sources used the same original
documents and, therefore, do not provide independent documentation.) A "+"
indicates that totals from multiple sources were combined. Unless otherwise
noted, the fatality totals discussed below refer to the first (largest)
number in the third column of Appendix
The largest loss shown in
Appendix 1 occurred in the Lesser
Antilles in mid-October 1780, during The Great Hurricane.
Estimates indicate that around 22,000 deaths occurred in that
storm, with a total of about 9,000 lives lost in Martinique, 4,000-5,000 in
St. Eustatius, and 4,326 in Barbados. Thousands of deaths
also occurred offshore. Based on Appendix 1, the number of
fatalities during The Great Hurricane of 1780 exceeds the
cumulative loss in any year (except 1780) and, in fact, in all
Figure 1a: Atlantic tropical cyclone deaths based on
Appendix 1 and shown
in 10-year periods (except for 1990-1994).
also caused far more deaths than documented in
any other storm. The second largest loss (the largest in the
United States) came during the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Just
after the storm, the Governor of the State of Texas estimated
12,000 fatalities (Lester 1900), but the storm summary of Ousley
(1900) provides information supporting their "official" estimate of
at least 8,000 lives lost. Three other storms killed around 8,000
people: 1974 Hurricane Fifi in Honduras; a 1930 hurricane in the
Dominican Republic; and 1963 Hurricane Flora in Haiti and Cuba. In
all, the list shows 39 instances of at least 1,000 fatalities among
the 144 cases in which at least 100 lives were lost. The available
documentation indicates that whenever there was a large loss of
life from tropical cyclones, the predominant cause of death was
drowning, not wind or wind blown objects or structural failures.
The Great Hurricane developed during mid-October. It was one
of three tropical cyclones to kill more than 1,000 people that
month. About 90% of the cases in
Appendix 1 could be assigned to
a specific month without ambiguity. Of those, about 40% occurred
in September, 30% in August and 20% in October. No other month had
as many as 5% of those cases. September also had the most deaths
(40% of the total), followed by October (30%), August (15%), and
each of the other months with less than 5%. Hence, August has more
cases than October, but the large number of lives lost during the
two deadliest October storms (The Great Hurricane of 1780 and
Flora) skew the fatality statistics sharply toward October.
The years with the most entries in
Appendix 1 are 1909 and
1933, which each had 5 cyclones responsible for at least 25 deaths.
Apparently, the 1780 hurricanes occurred during a 10- to 20-year period
notable for numerous past deadly storms in the
Figure 1b: Number of Atlantic tropical cyclones listed in
Appendix 1 (dark shading) and
Appendix 2 (light shading), shown in
10-year periods (except for 1990-1994).
Figure 2: Atlantic tropical cyclones deaths based on
Appendix 1 and
shown in 10-year periods (except for 1990-1994).
Figure 2 shows the number of
deaths in Appendix 1 stratified
by 100-year periods. The figure indicates that the number of
deaths generally increased with time. The 1700's were an
exception. Then, maritime losses between 1760 and 1790 dominated
the relatively large total. The 71,000 deaths in the 1900's
occurred despite improvements in hurricane forecasting, and
communication and warning systems. The increase appears to be
related to the increased population at risk along the coast and
Storms that could have caused at least 25 deaths
The second list (Appendix 2)
chronicles 192 tropical cyclone
cases that could be associated with at least 25 deaths. It also
provides excerpts which support that interpretation. It seems
certain that some of these candidates met the criterion, but their
losses are not quantified:
in 1553, 16 ships of the New Spain Flota were "struck by a
hurricane" and not again "ever heard from". (Marx 1983)
in 1640, 36 vessels were affected, with 4 thrown on shore; "nearly
all the sailors drowned, excepting 260 that were saved" (Millas
In other cases, the losses appear more modest and it is likely that
less than 25 deaths are associated with the storm:
in 1850, a "pilot boat sank" (Carney and Hardy 1969; Stevenson
excludes incidents where "few", "several" or similar
diminutive terminology was used to indicate the number of deaths.
4 Dates based on, or converted to, our current Gregorian calendar
system which replaced the Julian calendar in the 16th century.
5 Lloyd's List, a source of many late-1700's entries, has not yet
been reviewed for the 1800's.