Fr. Benito Vines can accurately be called the father of modern hurricane forecasting. His legacy is seen on our televisions every summer, from the Channel to the men and women working at the Hurricane Center.
Vines died on July 23, 1893. At the time, he was the director of the meteorological observatory of the Royal College of Belen, in Havana, Cuba. He had come to Cuba in 1870 from Spain and was a member of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit Order.
Living in Cuba, the good Father was able to see the destruction caused by hurricanes, and the need for some way to predict their arrival and route. Through years of study, meticulous observation of the weather and personal visits to the locations where a hurricane had made landfall, he was able to develop some theories.
As communication by telegraph became more available between the islands of the Caribbean and between them and the mainland, it became possible to obtain weather data from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Fr. Vines cultivated a network of observers, sailors and reporters that could provide him with far more storm information than he could obtain in Cuba alone.
In the United States, weather forecasting became a Federal government function with the formation of the National Weather Service in 1870. It was a component of the Army's Signal Service and remained a military agency until 1890.
Vines published the following scholarly works on hurricanes and forecasting:
1877 - "Relative Points of the Hurricanes of the Antilles in September and October of 1875 and 1876" Published as “Hints in Regard to West Indian Hurricanes” by the U.S. Army and later reprinted by the Navy.
1898 - "the Antilles" – published posthumously by the United States Weather Bureau
Vines issued his first hurricane warning on September 11, 1875. Two days later a violent hurricane struck the southern coast of Cuba. In September of 1876 and 1877, he is recorded as again issuing warnings that proved accurate.
Vines demonstrated that the accuracy of a prediction was significantly enhanced by data from a network of observers. His network became the backbone of a network throughout the region which was subsidized by the Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
The principles developed by Fr. Benito Vines and the theories which he advanced allowed for many successful hurricane predictions. The science of hurricane prediction was in its infancy, though, at his death and over a century would pass before such predictions could be regularly seen as accurate. In that 100 years, many people died because they ignored predictions, others because they could not flee. Some died because the basic theories that Vines proposed were ignored and denigrated.
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