Trivia Break: Deadly Tropical Cyclones

>> Monday, August 10, 2009

OK, no one made an attempt on this one. Remember, folks, I'm happy to answer your questions if you're interested. But, this time, I'll answer mine.

What were the two worst (in terms of number of death) tropical cyclones (typhoon, cyclone or hurricane) in recorded world history?

The worst ever, in terms of loss of life, is the 1970 Bhola Cyclone with a minimum of 300,000 deaths and as many as 1 million. Cyclones that strike on low lying areas with a high population density (and minimal escape opportunities) are by far the most deadly. Flooding is very deadly.

The forty foot storm surge in the 1839 Indian Cyclone also killed close to 300,000 people. In fact, because of the geography involved and the population density, the cyclones of the Northern Indian Ocean are the most deadly.

These two tropical cyclones are the only two tropical cyclones listed among the top ten deadliest natural disasters.

But of course, most of us in the United States are most concerned with Western Pacific typhoons and, most famously, the Atlantic hurricanes.

With regards to Atlantic hurricanes, what was the deadliest hurricane season in recorded history?

So, what were you thinking? Katrina? Camille? The 1900 Galveston Hurricane? Nope! The worst Atlantic hurricane in terms of loss of life was the Great Hurricane of 1780, which killed 27,500 people (and has more casualties alone than any other decade of hurricane activity). In the midst of the American Revolution and the French and British fleets roaming the Carribean, the deadliest year (in fact, month) in Atlantic hurricane history occurred, three hurricanes that killed more than a thousand apiece all hit in the month of October 1780, something that's never been repeated in any other season.

In the past 100 years, name the five deadliest Atlantic hurricanes. So, was all that unfair? Alright, let's focus on the past 100 years. Surely we can name these. Well, I can ('cause it's a hobby of mine). In order of most deadly:

Hurricane Mitch - one of the strongest hurricanes and the strongest in the 1998 season, it hit Central America and parked itself on those mountains for several days, dropping as much as 75 inches over mountains and streams. In addition to the ills of flooding from storm surge, the deluge overflowed rivers and caused massive mudslides. 11,000 were killed and 11,000 more left missing by the end of 1998.

Hurricane Fifi - Flooding, swollen rivers, and devastation to the fishing fleets caused hardship and death in 1974, and destroyed vital crops (bananas) in Honduras and Mexico. Toll is estimated to be between 3,000-10,000, but is generally accepted to be about 8,000.

1930 Dominican Republic hurricane - This tightly wound Category Four swept across the island of Hispaniola, leaving a trail of devastation, costing about 8,000 lives. The remnants wandered over Haiti, Cuba and Florida, but Hispaniola took the brunt.

Hurricane Flora - In 1963, this little beauty cut a vicious swathe across the Carribbean, including Haiti, Cuba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic... 7,000 lost their lives.

Okeechobee Hurricane - In 1928, a murderous hurricane that, again, cut a swath through the Carribbean and then flooded an area of a hundred square miles by breaching the dike around Lake Okeechobee, killing 2500. The total death toll was over 4000.

Surprised at what you didn't see? Like maybe...

Galveston Hurricane of 1900 - Ranking third of all time in the Atlantic. This devastating storm all but swept the booming city of Galveston off the map. Actually known about ahead of time, most citizens pooh-poohed the notion of leaving and paid a horrible price as a result. Some argue that this storm is why Houston became the center of urban success 'round these parts and Galveston dropped in stature. That hurricane killed 6-12 thousands, but happened more than a hundred years ago, so it doesn't count. Fortunately, evacuations were mostly successful when Ike hit Galveston dead on last year.

Hurricane Katrina ranked 27th.


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