Hurricane/cyclones : history, effects
May 20, 2013 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Historically, in tropical areas, did cyclones/hurricanes wipe villages/huts/people off the face of the earth ?

There was no forecasting hundreds of years ago, so storms were always a surprise. Were pre-Colombian (and even post-) towns/villages in tropical areas (Caribbean) typically destroyed, everyone killed, if they were hit ? (Or pre/early colonial pacific locations)

Population density was probably far lower than modern times, the architecture/engineering were simple/rudimentary (or not ?), so I'd think a storm would wipe everyone/thing out.

(I'm thinking islands, but could see Florida, Yucatan, etc as part of this question as well)
posted by k5.user to Science & Nature (4 answers total)
One case: this is how achromatopsia became established in Pingelap, which is part of Micronesia -- a typhon killed ~90% of the population, and one of the survivors carried the recessive gene. Oliver Sacks' book The Island of the Colorblind is fantastic if you're looking for more on that case in particular.
posted by pie ninja at 8:27 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's accurate to say that there was no weather forecasting hundreds of years ago, or that storms were always a surprise:
Ancient weather forecasting methods usually relied on observed patterns of events, also termed pattern recognition. For example, it might be observed that if the sunset was particularly red, the following day often brought fair weather. This experience accumulated over the generations to produce weather lore. However, not all of these predictions prove reliable...
Even today, people casually predict the weather based on the fact that we can sense barometric pressure, that we can physically see changes in the clouds that predict storms, and so on.

One modern example to look at would be the 1946 tsunami which hit Hawai'i with no warning, and which led to the creation of the Pacific Tsunami Warning center. It does seem like entire communities and towns were destroyed, but the loss of life is surprisingly low. Local lore talks about the residents of Waipio Vally on the Big Island, where farmers recognized the natural early warning signs of a tsunami and escaped up the steep mountains that surround the valley.
posted by muddgirl at 8:33 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Villagers in Japan erected warnings to future generations:
“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the stone slab reads. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”
posted by shothotbot at 8:36 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Cyclones in Bangladesh have wiped villages off the map within the last fifty years (says Wikipedia): 1970, 1991. This is despite modern forecasting techniques and early-alert systems, at least in the 1991 case. I find it entirely plausible that this happened in times & places before recorded history as well.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:55 AM on May 20, 2013

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