1932 Cuba hurricane

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1932 Cuba hurricane
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Hurricane Fourteen Analysis 8 Nov 1932.png
Surface weather analysis of the hurricane south of Cuba on November 8
Formed October 30, 1932 (1932-10-30)
Dissipated November 14, 1932 (1932-11-15)
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 175 mph (280 km/h)
Lowest pressure 918 mbar (hPa); 27.11 inHg
Fatalities 3,103+ direct
Damage $40 million (1932 USD)
Areas affected Leeward Islands, Venezuela, Colombia, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas, Bermuda
Part of the 1932 Atlantic hurricane season

The 1932 Cuba hurricane was a powerful and deadly late-season hurricane during the 1932 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the fourteenth tropical storm, fifth hurricane, and fourth major hurricane of the 1932 season.[1] The strongest Atlantic hurricane (and only Category 5 hurricane) ever recorded in the month of November, it devastated eastern Cuba and the Cayman Islands, resulting in at least 3,103 deaths, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes of the 20th century.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale

The storm was first observed on October 30 about 200 miles (320 km) east of Guadeloupe as a weak tropical storm with 40 mph (65 km/h) winds. It remained a tropical storm as it passed over the Leeward Islands on October 31.[2] The storm intensified into a category 1 hurricane on November 1 as it turned southwestward in the eastern Caribbean Sea, gradually strengthening and slowing down in forward motion.[3] On November 3, the center of the storm passed only 50 miles (80 km) north of Punta Gallinas, Colombia as a Category 2 hurricane, with winds of 100 mph (160 km/h) which point it began to turn back towards the west.[2]

As the hurricane slowly moved west across the southern Caribbean Sea, it continued to steadily strengthen, intensifying into a major hurricane with 115 mph (185 km/h) winds by the morning of November 5.[3] Early on November 6, the steamship San Simeon reported a pressure reading of 964 millibars (28.5 inHg) while just north of the storm's center.[2] At that point, the slow-moving storm began to recurve to the north across the western Caribbean Sea while intensifying to Category 5 intensity—a rating which it retained for a record 78 consecutive hours.[3] The storm maintained its strength through November 8 as it approached the Cayman Islands, becoming a Category 4 hurricane as it turned northeast.[2] There was a report of 27.96 inches of mercury (947 mbar) on the 8th by a Mr. Cameron on the British ship Forresbank.

Early on November 9, the center passed near Cayman Brac with winds of 160 mph (260 km/h).[3] The storm later struck central Cuba and then made landfall in eastern Cuba near Santa Cruz del Sur later that morning, having weakened slightly to a strong Category 4 hurricane with winds of 135 mph (215 km/h).[3] The storm passed over Cuba within several hours and emerged in the Atlantic by mid-afternoon near Nuevitas, while still a strong Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph (205 km/h) maximum sustained winds. The storm continued to weaken as it moved through the Bahamas the following day.[2]

The storm accelerated as it tracked northeast into the open Atlantic, gradually weakening.[3] It passed near Bermuda early on November 12 while a strong Category 1 hurricane. Winds of 88 mph (142 km/h) were reported in Bermuda.[2] Slow weakening continued as the storm tracked into the north Atlantic, and the storm became extratropical on November 13 south of Newfoundland.[3] It was absorbed by a larger extratropical disturbance soon thereafter.[2]

Retrospective intensity estimates[edit]

The S.S. Phemius, a 7406-ton vessel, lost its funnel while being carried in the hurricane for four days. It survived winds estimated at 200 mph, as reported by the observing officer, and "rolling through an arc of 70°" before being towed to Jamaica.[4][5]

In 2012, revised wind speed and pressure estimates by Christopher Landsea of the National Hurricane Center caused this hurricane to be upgraded from a Category 4 to Category 5 by HURDAT. The official path, intensity, and pressure data used in the reanalysis were all different than the original 1932 reports. Landsea's research sources included statements from the S.S. Phemius, a ship out of Savannah that was caught in the hurricane for 4 days (but survived along with its crew), recorded a peripheral pressure of 914.6 millibars (27.01 inHg) late on November 5,[4][6] Another ship recorded 27.40 inches of mercury (928 mbar) on the 6th.[6] The pressure at landfall in Cuba was estimated (using peripheral readings) at 917 (based on 940 mbar at Nuevitas) to 918 mbar (based on 944 mbar at Camaguey).[6] Additional corroboration of these pressure readings was taken from two observers' wind speed estimates of 200 and 210 mph.[4][6] Using a computer to estimate surge heights, Landsea's findings found that a central pressure of 918 mbar and a radius of maximum wind of 32 nautical miles (59 km) "obtained a close match to the observed storm surge in Santa Cruz del Sur."[6]

In literature[edit]

The 1932 Cuba hurricane inspired an allegorical novel by Richard Arthur Warren Hughes. The captain of the S.S. Phemius of the Blue Funnel Line, D.L.C. Evans, asked Hughes to write of the harrowing trip through the hurricane. This led Hughes to write In Hazard (1938) in which the fictional Archimedes encounters a fierce November hurricane that nearly destroys the ship.[7]


Santa Cruz del Sur, Camagüey Province, Cuba after the hurricane

Minor damage was reported in Venezuela and Colombia as the storm passed to the north. Jamaica suffered fairly light damage as well, although some communities saw significant losses to banana crops. Providence Island had significant agricultural damage and about 36 homes were destroyed by the waves.[2]

The storm devastated the Cayman Islands, especially Cayman Brac which was virtually flattened by the storm surge, which was reported to be as high as 10 m (33 ft). Many homes and buildings were washed out to sea as a result of the storm and many people had to climb trees to escape the floodwaters. 110 people died on the islands; one of them was on Grand Cayman and the rest were on Cayman Brac.[8] The ship Balboa also sank as a result of the storm.[9]

The most severe damage was in Cuba. The town of Santa Cruz del Sur in Camagüey Province was virtually obliterated by a massive storm surge which measured 6.5 m (21.3 ft) in height.[10] Few buildings remained standing in the area. In that coastal town alone, a total of 2,870 people lost their lives. In total, 3,033 people died in Cuba and damage there was estimated at $40 million (1932 USD; $691.4 million today).[10]


While the storm was initially listed in the HURDAT as a marginal Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale with no listed pressure, according to the Hurricane Reanalysis Project the hurricane reached Category 5 intensity with 175 mph (280 km/h) southwest of Cuba.[10] After the reanalysis, this hurricane was confirmed as the latest Category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, surpassing Hurricane Hattie of the 1961 season by six days. It was also, by a significant margin, the strongest storm (and only Category 5 hurricane) ever recorded in the month of November, well ahead of Hurricane Lenny's 933 mbar pressure on November 18, 1999. In addition, such an upgrade made the 1932 season (along with the 1933 season which was also discovered to have such in reanalysis) the first of six seasons with multiple Category 5 hurricanes, along with the 1933, 1960, 1961, 2005 and 2007 seasons. Finally, the 1932 hurricane was assessed to have remained at Category 5 for 78 consecutive hours, a record period of time in the Atlantic basin (although the record may be suspect due to the lack of aircraft or satellite observations at the time).[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Unisys (1932). "1932 Unisys Archive". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h C.L. Mitchell (1932). "1932 Monthly Weather Review". NOAA. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division (April 1, 2014). "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved August 23, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Hurricanes: their nature and history: particularly those of the West Indies, 6th Edition, Ivan Ray Tannehill, 1945, pp. 204-206
  5. ^ Phemius hit by U-boat
  6. ^ a b c d e f "1932 Metadata of HURDAT". 
  7. ^ Of Hyphens and Hurricanes
  8. ^ Cayman Islands
  9. ^ Balboa
  10. ^ a b c Christopher Landsea et al. (2003). "Hurricane Vulnerability in Latin America and The Caribbean". NOAA. Archived from the original on 26 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 

External links[edit]