Historical Geographies of Extreme Weather Events: Using the Archives to Retrace the 1839 Hurricane in the British North Atlantic

Authors: Kirsten Greer*, Nipissing University, Cary Mock*, University of South Carolina, Adam Csank, University of Nevada, Reno, Victoria Slonosky, Canadian Historical Data Rescue, McGill University, Simon Naylor , University of Glasgow
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Historical Geography, Global Change
Keywords: Hurricane, Law of Storms, Canadian Maritimes, Bermuda, Trans-Imperial networks
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What can an examination of hurricanes in the past tell us about British imperialism, biophysical processes, and climate change in the North Atlantic? This study examines a major storm, known as the Reid Hurricane in mid-September of 1839 that formed in the western tropical Atlantic, passed very near Bermuda, and then along the eastern Canadian Maritimes. Original historical data for this study come from over 30 different repositories and archives, involving land-based weather diaries, newspapers, instrumental records, and ship logbooks. Challenges and unique themes include extraction of archival materials from international repositories, qualitative and quantitative interpretation for both social and physical science aspects, spatial analysis of the Reid Hurricane that include synoptic weather analysis and trans-imperial networks as part of Britain’s global empire. Results suggest that the Reid Hurricane was at least a Category 3 hurricane earlier in its life cycle as it approached and passed through Bermuda, and retained its tropical hurricane status as it approached the Canadian Maritimes similar to Hurricane Igor in 2010. The reconstructed track is very similar to that conducted by William Reid in his Law of Storms, but Post-Tropical characteristics in the latter lifecycle are clearly evident. The meteorological characteristics have important implications on the meteorological thinking involved in the 19th-century storm controversy. This case study of the Reid Hurricane is just one of many huge unusual tropical weather events during 1839, and offers an ideal approach on how to conduct case studies of extreme events in historical geography.

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