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Tropical Cyclones in the 1800's


The first record of a tropical cyclone in the Central North Pacific was at 13N 148W in December of 1832 from the log of a vessel of the German Merchant Marine (Visher 1925). From the point of first record it was tracked west northwestward to a point 350 miles south of South Point on the Big Island, thence to just south of Johnston Island on a path very similar to that followed by hurricane CELESTE in August 1972, 140 years later. See Appendix A (Chart Series).


On September 23, 1843 German shipping logged a storm at 139W which was later charted at 17N 147W on a heading which, if unaltered, would have taken it directly onto the southeast coast of the Big Island. However, no further records are available and whether or not it impacted or came close to Hawaii is unknown at this time. W.C. Redfield (1856) in a documented communication to Commodore Perry named the storm "The Cyclone of the Lark" which indicates it must have been a memorable one.


After the 1843 occurrence, Visher was not able to document another Central North Pacific tropical cyclone until November 21, 1858 when Deutsche Seewarte, Segelhandbuch fur den Stillen Ozean recorded a singular entry of a storm at 21N 174W.


Twelve years later Deutsche Seewarte records reported a tropical cyclone which was first noted at 17N 141W and then progressed west northwestward during September 21-24, 1970. According to Visher the storm was tracked to a point about Bo mil 8 s south of South Point on the Big Island and then to 19N 16W (175 miles southwest of Honolulu) where its last known position was determined.

Regarding that storm, the following is quoted from the September 24, 1870 issue of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in "Notes of the Week":

"The equinoctial storm which old salts always look for about this time, appears to have burst on us in the shape of a heavy gale of wind, accompanied with rain squalls. Should the wind veer a point or two further south it will probably give us an abundance of rain, for the atmosphere is warm and damp."


The following extracts from a column in "The Pacific Commercial Advertiser" printed in Honolulu on August 12, 1871, tell the few known facts of a tropical storm at an unknown location but quite presumably in the Central North Pacific. The storm is not catalogued elsewhere in this paper due to lack of specific data.

"The U.S.S. Jamestown, 16 guns, of whose departure from Valparaiso on her way to this port we were advised by a letter from Chile, arrived on Saturday afternoon (AUGUST 5th), having been 63 days at sea, during a part of which time she had been cruising in search of some reported "Islands" and "Dangers" in the North Pacific, east of long. 181 (sic) W and as far north as lat 24 33'N. The observations in this report are for palpable reasons, not made known at present, but will be forwarded to the department at Washington for publication.*

"The only interruption to very fine weather was a moderate gale on the 10th of July which came on during the morning with heavy rain, squalls, and falling barometer with a moderate, broken sea. During the day the wind backed from N.W. around by W and S to SE. and S in the evening when it moderated (*At the time of this report those observations were not available.) and cleared up, the ship being able to steer her course to NW and make sail.

"At sunset the storm cloud was plainly visible to West, and moving away with the accompanying-lightning and rain. A cyclone was plotted, moving W by N at a rate of 15 miles per hour, its centre probably passing within 200 miles of the ship."

Another item in the same issue of "The Pacific Commercial Advertiser" also makes reference to a squall on Oahu on Wednesday, August 9, 1871 which was associated with the following report gathered from "The Hawaiian Gazette.


This tropical cyclone has not been tracked by any known source. The following excerpts are quoted from the August 16 and 23 issues of The Hawaiian Gazette published in Honolulu by M. Raplee, Director of the Government Press, and leave little doubt as to the authenticity of the occurrence:

"The Late Storm on Hawaii"

"From advices from Waimea and Kohala we learn that the storm of the 9th last was most severe in those districts, particularly in Kohala. We cannot better describe the fury of the storm than by publishing the graphic accounts of it given by Mr. D. D. Baldwin, manager of the plantation, and Rev. Mr. Bond, a resident at that place for over thirty years, to Hon. S. N. Castle, Treasurer of the Kohala Sugar Company. Mr. Baldwin writes:

'On Wednesday of last week a fearful tornado swept through the district, spreading desolation and ruin in its track, demolishing Mr. Wright's mill building and a large portion of the thatched houses in the district; throwing down our flume; uprooting large trees, and prostrating our canefields.

"The wind commenced about 6 o'clock A.M. from the North, and rapidly rotating to the West and South, and increasing in fury, reached its climax about 9 AM when it suddenly lulled into a calm fearfully in contrast with the rain the storm had so rapidly wrought. The wind was accompanied with torrents of rain which raised the streams to an unprecedented height and swept away fences and trees."

The Rev. Mr. Bond relates:

'The storm commenced about 6 a-fd. and increased at 10 a.m. The greatest fury was say from 9 to 9/2or 9-3/4, torrents of rain came with it. The district is swept as with the besom of destruction. About 150 houses were blown down, trees in ravines torn up like wisps of grass, cane stripped and torn, as never before and even the grass forced down and made to cleave to the earth. The main houses on the plantation, though flooded, remain in position. Cooper's shop and several of the people's houses moved from 2 to 10 feet off their foundations. The damage is variously estimated at $1,000 to $10,000. I should say $5,000 is a fair estimate. In our garden there is scarely a whole tree of any kind remaining. A mango tree 15 inches in diameter was snapped as a pipe stem, just above the surface of the ground. Old solid kukui trees which had stood the storms of a score of years were torn up and pitched about like chaff. Dr. Wright's mill and sugar house, the trash and dwelling house for manager, or head man, were all strewn over the ground. We were and are most thankful that the storm came in the daytime, and also that it was limited in its duration. These are the large drops of mercy mingled in the cup.'

The editor continues:

"The number of houses destroyed at Waipio, we understand to have been 27. At Waimea but little damage was done except to the road between that place and Kawaihae which we are informed, was seriously damaged in places by the torrents of water."

"Other portions of Hawaii seem to have escaped the injurious effects of the storm. At Hilo a strong wind blew during the day, and in the districts of Kona and Kau a vast amount of rain fell without wind. The storm seems, so far as we can judge, to have been a cyclone, moving from SE to NW its most destructive force having been felt in a diameter of from 150 to 200 miles. As the China steamer from San Francisco would probably have been somewhere to the NW of these islands at the time of the storm, it is not improbable that we may hear of her encountering the gale."

"Storm on Maui"

"On Wednesday last (August 9) the Island of Maui was visited by one of the most severe, if not the severest, storm that has been felt on any of these islands for many years. At Lahaina the storm, which appears to have been almost violent cyclone, commenced about ten o'clock, and ranged for several hours. The following graphic description by a resident, will give our readers news of the violence there:

'Thursday morning - I hope you are all safe there. We, here of Lahaina, have had one of those terrific, tropical storms, hurricanes, cyclones, or if there is any harder word in the dictionary it well deserves it, which we read of in sensation paragraphs, but which few men actually witness more than two to three times in their lives.

'It commenced yesterday morning before daybreak with a fine, steady rain accompanied by a rising wind from the North and Northeast increasing in violence until about noon, when the play was at its height, and coconuts, breadfruit, branches of trees and whole trees might be seen pirouetting and gallopading down one street and up another, while the horrible roar of the gale, now shrieking like 5000 steam whistles let off at once, now becoming like magnificent thunder kept up with music to the mad performance.

'Add to that an inveterate rain that knew no ceasing from early morn to late at night and you may have an idea of a tropical storm in Lahaina.

'Owing to the previous dry spell of long duration, the swollen streams from the mountain did not come down till about 11 A.M. and the water in the canal in front of my house was gradually rising by the rain alone until it was full and overflowing. At that time down came the accumulated waters from the mountain sides in all directions, red, like streams of blood, roaring like wild bulls, plowing up channels of their own, inundating houses and making confusion worse confounded. The damage to fruit trees, vineyards and canefields must be very considerable but as yet (Thursday morning) no accurate accounts have been received. The wind gradually wore round from North to Southwest and subsided at 5 P.M.'

Captain Makee writes:

"We have met with a great misfortune, but not, I hope, an irremediable one. At a quarter past ten this morning I went into the office to write letters. I had just begun to write when the wind began to blow furiously; in five minutes after, it was blowing one of the most fearful hurricanes I ever experienced. The door of the office was blown in, and took all the strength of Mr. S. and myself to close it and nail it up. Just as we had secured the door we saw the flagstaff fall. The hurricane being so terrific that trees, houses, and everything about were flying before the force of the wind.

"I was of course anxious to get to the dwelling house, but could see no way of accomplishing my desire. At this time a servant who had managed to get to the office window informed me that (omitted) was sick. I got out of the lee window of the office and made a desperate attempt to get to the house. The air was literally full of branches of trees, barrels, and shingles. It seemed as though the Furies were let loose. I finally got into the garden where the trees were falling in every direction, when a gust of wind took me and threw me some ten feet, fortunately landing on a grass plot, by which good fortune I received no injury. One of the natives came with great difficulty to my rescue, when, with great exertion we succeeded in getting into the house. I found (omitted) had swooned with fright. She had been in the cottage and had in passing from there to the house narrowly escaped being crushed by the falling trees; arrived at the house, the terrible danger through which she had passed overcame her."


Another report of a tropical cyclone was obtained from German shipping logs as having occurred on November 19, 1874 at 16N 161W (375 miles southwest of Oahu) at nearly the same position hurricane DOREEN was located 99 years later. That particular entry included a barometer reading of 29.68" (1005.1 mb) and a southwest wind of Beaufort force 10.

The lowest pressure recorded at Honolulu was 29.6" (1002.4 mb) on November 17 with fresh south to south-southwest winds. About 20 inches of rain fell in Honolulu from the 17th through the 19th. At Kalaupapa, Molokai, southerly gale force winds destroyed 23 homes and damaged 50 others.

The modern day student of tropical meteorology, upon analysis of the data listed above will decide that this may have been a "Kona" storm.

Both Visher (1925) and Hurd (1929) from examination of the Segelhanbuch (the German Sailor's Handbook) believed it to be a true tropical cyclone of warm core structure. Hurd's reasoning seems most plausible but not without question.

Whether or not this particular storm was truly tropical may never be known since it cannot be determined if the German vessel ever penetrated the center of the storm.

German seamen of the latter portion of the 19th century, as well as researchers of other nationalities, were well aware of the existence of "Kona" storms. Redfield (1856) specifically mentioned their presence in the vicinity of the Sandwich Islands.