[The steam packet SS Home sinks off Outer Banks during Racer’s Hurricane. By Nathaniel Currier – Courtesy of Springfield Museums]
On September 28, 1837, the Royal Navy vessel HMS Racer had an encounter with a strong hurricane in the northwest Caribbean Sea. The storm would continue on a path over the Yucatan, Mexico, Texas, and the southeastern United States, leaving destruction in its wake.
The hurricane was the first recorded storm to rake the entire Texas coast. It was named the Racer’s Hurricane from the ship mentioned above . The cyclone is remembered as one of the most destructive storms of the nineteenth century due to its extreme duration and 2000 mile path of destruction.
While its origins are unknown, the storm may have been a Cape Verde storm and affected Barbados on Sept. 22nd. By Sept. 26, it was bringing strong winds and heavy rains to Jamaica and shut down Kingston businesses for two days. The following day the sloop-of-war HMS Racerencountered the storm at sea west of Jamaica. The ship was dismasted with the loss of two crewman and a young cabin boy. This encounter gave the storm its historical name.
[Approximate track of Racer’s Hurricane from Weather Prediction Center. Numbers correspond with dates]
By September 30th, the hurricane struck the Yucatan peninsula and continued on into the Gulf of Mexico. On October 3rd, it made another landfall in northern Mexico. There it battered the town of Matamoros, destroyed the customs house, and wrecked many ships at sea. The storm then skimmed along the coast of the Republic of Texas, sinking ships in harbors from South Padre Island to Galveston.
The storm center moved into the Gulf and made another landfall in Louisiana on Oct. 6th. It brought high winds and a storm surge to the New Orleans area, causing much roof damage and destroyed the lighthouse at Bayou St. John. Storm surges were also felt along the Mississippi coast and onto Mobile, AL. As the storm moved across the southeastern United States, it destroyed sugar cane and cotton crops. It then exited into the Atlantic at South Carolina on October 8th.
[HMS Racer near Rio de Janeiro, 1838. By Warre]
The hurricane regained some strength once it moved over the Ocean. The steam packet SS Home was on its New York to Charleston run when it ran afoul of the storm and the captain tried to beach on the Outer Banks to save the ship. But the storm waves battered the ship to pieces and capsize one of the lifeboats. Only 40 of the 130 passengers and crew made it to shore alive.
Over the course of the storm, some 105 people died and it caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in destruction. The SS Home disaster led Congress to pass legislation requiring that U.S. ships carry enough life vests for all passengers and crew.
Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels