WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Just curious on how meteoroligists are able to know and track hurricanes from all the way back in the 1850's? I mean how do you know on August 21st a 1855 hurricane was a catagory 3 at 2:00am over Cuba?

Posted August 16, 2008

MIKE MOSS SAYS:      Rob,     For hurricanes of the 1800s, tracks and other statistics are estimates of varying accuracy that depend on extensive sleuthing by researchers who look through ships' logs, newspaper reports and diaries, archives of island-based weather observations, insurance company records, and so on. The data gradually becomes more reliable through the years due to the advent of island telegraph lines, radio, and aircraft reconnaissance. Eventually, the availability of 24-hour satellite coverage resulted in reasonably high accuracy for locations and intensities of virtually every storm, but the scientists who reconstructed the archive of hurricane information back to the 1850s, known as "best track" data, readily acknowledge that uncertainties increase with distance in time, and also estimate that in the absence of satellite and aircraft observations, it is likely that up to six storms per year went completely undetected and thus unrecorded up through 1895, and perhaps as many as four per year from then until 1910 or so, after which a continued increase in ship traffic and the addition of aircraft trimmed the number even more until satellites finally set it close to zero for good.


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