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17 May 1865 Great Storm

Though little information is available online as to the details of the 1865 Great Storm, there are a few facts which have trickled down in documentation over the past 150-odd years. The Great Storm as it became known was an extremely strong cold front which impacted the Cape Town area on the 17th May 1865. A popular wreck off Mouille Point, the RMS Athens was just one of the eighteen sailing vessels which sank during this monsterous storm, twenty-nine people are believed to have died on the RMS Athens alone.

According to sources between fifty and seventy people died during the 17 May 1865 Great Storm (also known as the Great Gale). It remains the most deadly maritime storm in the Cape Town area. There are no measurements of wind speed or details as to the synoptic conditions of this storm that I am aware of, or at least that’s available online, but it could be assumed that winds in the Table Bay were sustained between 70km/h and 90km/h with gusts at around 120km/h, or at least that is what the damage reports suggest.

Any more information on this storm would be greatly appreciated, it was definitely an historic weather event but sadly due to the lack of satellite imagery and integrity of data archives in the 19th century very little information on the storm itself is available.



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