The question is simple: what is the earliest tropical cyclone (hurricane or typhoon) described in the historical record?


1 Answer 1


Japanese legend claims that typhoons twice save Japan from attempted invasions by Kublai Khan, once in 1274 and seven years later 1281. These divine winds ("kamikaze") are mixed in Japanese mysticism and are perhaps apocryphal.

The Chinese were meticulous record keepers and recorded disasters of all kinds. Liu et al. scoured written Chinese history for records of typhoons. T earliest unequivocal report of a typhoon they found was in the “Official History” of the Song Dynasty:

In the tenth lunar month of the eighth year of the reign of Kai Bao [i.e., November AD 975], the city of Guangzhou was struck by a jufeng [typhoon]. Two zhang [a traditional Chinese measurement unit that equals about three meters] of rain fell within a day and night. The sea rose. Some boats were blown away and lost.

The Mayans were also meticulous record keepers and their homeland, the Yucatan, suffers a high rate of hurricane landfalls. There are two problems, however. One is that the Spanish conquistadors and the priests they brought with them were extremely meticulous about hunting down and destroying Mesoamerican writings. The other issue is that those writings were inextricably interwoven with the bizarre religion of the Mayans.

The Popol Vuh, written by the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez around the turn of the 18th century, records some aspects of Mayan mythologies. The translations are a bit challenging. The Popol Vuh describes the ball court (which was very important to the Mayans), describes many of the Mayan deities, describes the Mayan creation story. One translation of this creation story follows.

Heart of Sky arrived here with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent in the darkness, in the night. He spoke with Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent. They talked together then. They thought and they pondered. They reached an accord, bringing together their words and their thoughts. Then they gave birth, heartening one another. Beneath the light, they gave birth to humanity. Then they arranged for the germination and creation of the trees and the bushes, the germination of all life and creation, in the darkness and in the night, by Heart of Sky, who is called Huracan. First is Thunderbolt Huracan, second is Youngest Thunderbolt, and third is Sudden Thunderbolt. These three together are Heart of Sky.

Note the name of the Heart of Sky, Hurucan. Others translate that name as Juracán, yet others, Hurricane. That Mayan god may well be the source of the word "hurricane". Then again, that god might have been given that name based on an already existing word. Similar sounding words were used throughout Mesoamaerica and the Caribbean to describe what we now call hurricanes, and also to describe the god of the sky.

Heart of Sky was a blood-thirsty god (many of the Mayan gods were blood-thirsty.) Two surviving Mayan stelae (carved stone monuments) depict a destructive event dated on one of the stelae as having occurred on June 3, 544 that depict whirling winds and pools of blood. That might well have been a hurricane. Then again, it might have been the ascension of a powerful king who aligned himself with Heart of Sky.

Stephen Houston, "Hurricane!", http://www.mesoweb.com/articles/houston/hurricane.pdf

Kam‐biu Liu, Caiming Shen, and Kin‐sheun Louie. "A 1,000‐Year History of Typhoon Landfalls in Guangdong, Southern China, Reconstructed from Chinese Historical Documentary Records." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91.3 (2001): 453-464.


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