Viñes y Martorell, Benito (1837–1893)

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Viñes y Martorell, Benito (1837–1893)

Benito Viñes y Martorell (b. 19 September 1837; d. 23 July 1893), pioneer of hurricane forecasting. A Jesuit priest born in Catalonia, Spain, Viñes was sent to Havana to take charge of the Belén Observatory (Belén was a Jesuit preparatory school), where he carried out his scientific work for the rest of his life. He was well acquainted with all that was then known about hurricanes, which amounted to very little as far as the signs announcing their coming or their passing were concerned. He devoted his life to finding a way to detect these signs.

Viñes began by studying the movements of the clouds that he called "featherlike cirrostratus." He then combined the data he gathered with information about the relationship between changes in barometric pressure and the paths of hurricanes that had blown through at the same time in previous years. After a while, he found it possible to predict, within certain limits, the path that a hurricane would follow. On 11 September 1875 he was able to make the first accurate hurricane forecast in history. A year later, again in September, the only sea captain who did not heed his warning lost his ship in the Straits of Florida.

In time Viñes was able to establish a network of information sources in the Caribbean. But he never had at his disposal the sophisticated observing tools that are available today, and thus his "laws of the hurricanes" (which also explained the structure of these tropical storms) have been superseded by researchers. This does not mean, however, that the essential validity of his observations has been proved erroneous. On the contrary, according to Dr. Neil L. Frank, director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, they have been rediscovered and confirmed. Viñes's work is a historical landmark in the field of hurricane forecasting. Viñes died in Havana.

See alsoHurricanes .


José I. Lasaga, Cuban Lives: Pages from Cuban History (1988), vol. 2.

José Fernández Partagas, ed., Memoir of the Homage to Rev. Father Benito Viñes, S.J. in the Centennial of the First Hurricane Forecast (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Ramos Guadalupe, Luis Enrique. Benito Viñes S.J.: Estudio biográfico. Havana: Editorial Academia, 1996.

                                  JosÉ M. HernÁndez