It began with a hurricane 400 years ago...

Bermuda is no stranger to Hurricanes and tropical storms. In fact a hurricane ultimately led to the colonisation of the Island in 1609.

Studies conducted by the Bermuda Weather Service found that from 1609 to the present day, devastating storms affect the Island every six to seven years. While our tropical cyclone season is from May through November, with an average of one storm passing within 180 nautical miles of the Island every year.

Even though accuracy in the forecasting of tropical storms has increased in recent years, the Bermuda Weather Service reinforces the need for greater public awareness of, and preparedness for, the potentially devastating effects of a direct hit by a major hurricane — a Category Three or above.

  • Photo from NOAA's archive

    Photo from NOAA's archive "The Clipper Ship 'Comet' of New York" laboring in heavy hurricane seas off Bermuda in October 1852. This is from a Currier and Ives print pasted on a wood backing. The original print was completed in 1855. Clipper Ship "COMET" of New York. In a Hurricane off Bermuda, on her Voyage from New York to San Francisco, Oct. 1852 The "Comet," launched in July of 1851, was built primarily for the passenger and cargo trade to and from San Francisco. The main cabin was elegantly furnished with costly furniture and rich carpeting. The state rooms were especially luxurious and said to "rival on a miniature scale the best apartments in a first-class hotel." The clipper was constructed of the best materials and iron-braced for strength. The ship was also equipped with a force-pump and 100 feet of hose, capable of throwing water to either end of the deck to suppress a fire quickly. Ironically, in 1856, bound for London from Brisbane, the clipper caught fire. The pump system failed to smother the flames. While all of the passengers and part of the crew escaped on life-boats, the mate and 17 crew members were forced to stay with the ship since there was not enough room for them in the boats. Eventually, those who stayed with the "Comet" were rescued by the "Dauntless," but those on the life-boats were never found.

  • Photo courtesy of the Bermuda Archives and BUEI
Bermudians flock to the South Shore as the Pollockshield goes down in the distance following a powerful hurricane in 1915.

    Photo courtesy of the Bermuda Archives and BUEI Bermudians flock to the South Shore as the Pollockshield goes down in the distance following a powerful hurricane in 1915.


Bermuda is no stranger to Hurricanes and tropical storms. In fact a hurricane ultimately led to the colonisation of the Island in 1609.

Studies conducted by the Bermuda Weather Service found that from 1609 to the present day, devastating storms affect the Island every six to seven years. While our tropical cyclone season is from May through November, with an average of one storm passing within 180 nautical miles of the Island every year.

Even though accuracy in the forecasting of tropical storms has increased in recent years, the Bermuda Weather Service reinforces the need for greater public awareness of, and preparedness for, the potentially devastating effects of a direct hit by a major hurricane — a Category Three or above.

Information and historical records on hurricanes prior to 1895 are scarce, but there is a record dating from 1712 when the first of two severe hurricanes hit the Island on September 8. Many of Bermuda's historical buildings, including St. Peter's Church in St. George's, were damaged.

Since Bermuda's first settlers had built almost everything out of cedar wood, including commercial buildings and churches, many were destroyed.

It was as a direct result of these hurricanes that the decision was taken to construct buildings from limestone, as opposed to wood and thus withstand hurricanes better. New construction methods were developed to cut stone from hillsides to create solid limestone buildings of which many still exist.

1839 In September that year, a hurricane caused great damage to the Island, with a reported storm surge of over 11 feet. Known as "Reid's" cyclone, the system moved from east of the West Indies into the southwest Atlantic. Swells were noted as early as September 9 in Bermuda. During late on the September 11 and early on September 12, this hurricane struck Bermuda. The excessive storm surge resulted in thousands of trees being downed. The tower on Tower Hill was levelled. Damage done to private property totalled 8,000 pounds sterling. This cyclone later swept western Ireland as an extratropical storm, which they called The Great Wind of 1839. This was one of the first hurricanes to be studied by William Reid in person, in this case as Governor of the island the year after his publication of "The Law of Storms".

1852 Mentioned in the press is the story of the Clipper Ship "Comet" of New York. On her voyage from New York to San Fransisco, she was caught in a hurricane off Bermuda in October 1852. She survived the hurricane but, ironically, in 1856 bound for London from Brisbane, the clipper caught fire. The pump system failed to smother the flames. While all of the passengers and part of the crew escaped on lifeboats, the mate and 17 crew members were forced to stay with the ship since there was not enough room for them in the boats. Eventually, those who stayed with the "Comet" were rescued by the Dauntless, but those on the lifeboats were never found.

1880 On September 1, the Causeway was wrecked by "the great storm". It was rebuilt following the original design, which stood until 14 September 1899, when three-quarters of a mile of the bridge was ravaged by another powerful hurricane. Afterwards, the Causeway was rebuilt of stone block. Nearly a century later, in 1995, Hurricane Felix caused notable damage. Shortly after that, on 5 September 2003, Hurricane Fabian dealt another critical blow, including taking the lives of four people who were swept from the Causeway.

1915 On September 2 and 3, a hurricane caused the steamer Pollokshields to be wrecked on the reefs off the South Shore. The master lost his life in heavy rain and 82 mph winds. In The New York Times, dated September 17, 1915, surviving seamen told how Captain Ernest Boothe lost his life trying to get a lifebelt for one of his firemen. Dan Young, a boson, told the newspaper that on September 2, the steamer ran into strong gales, with fog and rain. "James Smith, a fireman from Southampton, the last to come up from the stokehole, had no belt, and when the skipper saw he had none, he told me to go below and get one from the deck cabins on the port side. By that time the seas were sweeping over the wall deck aft, and it was a tight job to get there without going overboard, but I managed it and found the doors locked. I got back, and reported to Captain Boothe that I could not force the doors and offered to go again if he would give me the keys. 'No Boson,' says he, 'that wouldn't be fair. You went down once, and now I will have a try.' The captain got down all right, but just as he was making for the alleyway a big sea struck him, and he went overboard and was swept astern. We stood still, because we could not get aft and were powerless to help him. The last I saw of him alive he was on top of a great sea, within ten feet of a sharp coral rock. The rest of us reached shore later that day."

1917 On September 6, a storm with unprecedented tides passed within 120 miles (195 km) of Hamilton, Bermuda, and it transitioned to an extratropical storm on September 6. The maximum winds of the storm are estimated, though high waves at Bermuda suggested that the cyclone reached major hurricane strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

1918 The Island suffers a direct hit by a Category Two Hurricane over a period of two days on September 4.

1922 On September 21, a major hurricane hits the Island, with winds up to 120 mph and an eight-foot storm surge.

1926 The Havana-Bermuda Hurricane killed 88 and caused $100 million in damages. When this Category Four Hurricane passed directly over the Island on October 22, 1926, Bermuda Harbour Radio reported gusts of up to 143 knots. Two British warships, the Calcutta and the Valerian sank and the 88 who died during this storm were all sailors and officers on-board the Valerian. The Havana-Bermuda Hurricane was ultimately responsible for a total of 738 deaths, including 650 people in Cuba.

1948 On September 13, a hurricane passed 50 miles to the west of the Island with 80 to 100 mph winds downing telephones and power. It was followed by a direct hit less than a month later in October when sustained hurricane force winds of 110 mph were recorded. According to the October 9, 1948 edition of The Royal Gazette, the Foundation Maritime Company tug, Foundation Josephine, which pulled the Leicester, a British freighter crippled in the first storm 800 miles to safety, was piled up on the coral reefs at Ferry Point. The West End suffered severe damage in the hurricane with the complete collapse of the north-eastern gable of Frith's Building, which housed apartments, stores and the Mangrove Bay Bar, and the destruction of the roof and veranda of the Mangrove Bay Grocery Building.

1953 On September 17, Hurricane Edna passed within 50 miles of Bermuda with winds of 120 mph, torrential rail and much damage to roofs. Three people were injured in this storm and headlines in The Royal Gazette, dated September 19, 1953 read: "Hurricane Damage will run into scores of thousands of Pounds; Total at Former Dockyard alone estimated at 50,000 Pounds."

1963 On August 9, Hurricane Arlene, which had been threatening the Island for almost a week, came ashore. In her wake she left hundreds of boats, homes and vast areas of vegetation destroyed or damaged and it was the first time in a decade that a hurricane had not veered its course away from the Island. Arlene caused $300,000 in property damage in Bermuda, but no lives were lost. The Royal Gazette, dated August 11 read: "A large pile or rubble now represents a boat club and over 15 neat and trim sailboats and outboards. This is all that is left of the Mid-Atlantic Boat Club on the North Shore in Devonshire which was wiped out in its entirety including every boat, probably one of the heaviest losses suffered by any group from Hurricane Arlene." The article went on to describe how every single piece of glass, wooden board and shreds of boats were heaped "in a single, neat pile, leaving the surrounding area washed almost completely clean." Damage was estimated to be close to 5,000 Pounds.

1987 Even though Hurricane Emily was only a Category One when it passed swiftly over the Island on September 25, it brought with it wind gusts recorded up to 125 mph. Many were caught off guard as the storm was expected to miss the Island. Small, but vicious and spawning several tornadoes, Emily caused widespread chaos and damage — mostly to cars and boats, though houses experienced severe damage during the storm's passage as well. St. George's was hit hard, as was the Hamilton Princess Hotel when all 80 windows shattered. More than 100 people were treated at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for broken bones from flying debris and part of the hospital's roof was blown off. Ultimately Emily caused $35 million in damage to the Island.

2001 On October 11 subTropical Storm Karen and later Hurricane Karen, passed close to the West End with near to minimal Hurricane force winds of 60 to 65 knots.

The main element of the storm was surprise as it quickly evolved from an ordinary frontal low pressure disturbance, 250 nautical miles to our south-east on the 10th. What followed was 24-hours of high winds and considerable damage to vegetation, trees and power lines, with around 22,000 of the 30,000 power subscribers without electricity by the morning of the 12th. Since the storm evolved so quickly, wave-induced coastal erosion and damage to marine structures was quite minor, but caused a cruise ship to break free of its mooring. Karen later became a hurricane while moving away.

2003 On September 5, Hurricane Fabian ravaged Bermuda. This was the strongest storm to hit the Island in four decades. It began mildly when Bermuda woke to gusting winds between 25 mph and 37 mph. The eye of the storm, which was 50 miles from north to south and 30 miles from east to west, then travelled across the Island bringing the highest winds. The wall of the eye skirted to the West, sitting over the Island for about three hours in the north-east quadrant, traditionally the strongest part of the storm.

By 5.55 p.m., when the strongest winds of 150 mph were recorded, the Island had already lost four lives. P.C Stephen Antoine Symons, P.C Nicole O'Connor and Station Duty Officer Gladys Saunders were trapped on the Causeway in their stalled vehicle. A 23-year-old civilian, Manuel Pacheco, was stuck in a second car behind them. Although attempts were made to save them, fire fighters, police officers and a construction worker had to abort the mission when the storm forced them off the Causeway. The victims were swept into the sea.

Ultimately Fabian was responsible for the four deaths in Bermuda, three in the Grand Banks and one in North Carolina. An estimated $300 million in damage to Bermuda's infrastructure — including partial destruction of the Causeway for the third time since 1889 — was also recorded. In her wake Fabian also left 25,000 of the Island's 32,000 households and commercial customers without power.

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