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The History Of Hurricanes

Scientists have only been studying hurricanes only for about 100 years. But there is evidence of hurricanes occurring long in the past. For example, geologists (scientists who study the earth) believe that layers of sediment in a lake in Alabama was brought there by a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico as long as 3,000 years ago! There is also evidence in Florida of hurricanes more than 1,000 years ago.

One of the first human records of hurricanes appears in Mayan hieroglyphics. The Mayans also practiced a kind of mitigation and risk reduction by building their major settlements away from the hurricane-prone coastline. In fact, it is the Mayan word "Hurakan" that became our word "hurricane." Hurakan was the name of one of their gods, who, they believed, blew his breath across the water and brought forth dry land. Later, Carib Indians gave the name "Hurican" to one of their gods of evil.

Many storms left important marks on history. In 1565, a hurricane scattered a French fleet of war ships and allowed the Spanish to capture a French fort in what is now Florida. In 1609, a fleet of ships carrying settlers from England to Virginia was struck by a hurricane. Some of the ships were damaged and part of the fleet grounded on Bermuda, an island nation in the Atlantic. These passengers became the first people to live on Bermuda. In 1640, a hurricane partially destroyed a large Dutch fleet that was poised to attack Cuba.

There were a number of particularly severe hurricanes as the U.S. went from the 1800s to the 1900s. Hurricanes hit Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia in 1893 and killed as many as 4,000 people. In 1900, a famous Texas hurricane killed more than 8,000 people and was a Category 4 storm.

As forecasting improved communities were no longer surprised by hurricanes and could take measures to evacuate ahead of the storm. While destruction still continues, the number of deaths in hurricanes had dropped significantly.

Information courtesy of the Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory/NOAA

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