What are Hurricane Lamps?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hurricane lamps are lanterns which are designed to stay lit in windy conditions. The design of a hurricane lamp also promotes fire safety, in addition to staying alight, by making it hard for fire to escape from the lamp and spread. These lamps are primarily used decoratively, although in regions where electricity is unreliable or nonexistent, many people use hurricane lamps for everyday lighting. Hardware and lighting supply stores often sell a range of hurricane lamps.

Hurricane lamps, or lanterns, are enclosed to shield the flame from the wind.
Hurricane lamps, or lanterns, are enclosed to shield the flame from the wind.

The key element to the design of a hurricane lamp is the tall glass chimney, which shelters the flame in the lantern from the wind. In a simple design, the chimney fits over a container which is designed to hold a candle or oiled wick, and there may be a perforated metal cap for the chimney to add more protection. More rugged versions of hurricane lamps have a framework which encloses the chimney, with a handle on the top so that the lamp can be easily moved.

Classically, hurricane lamps are made with a clear glass chimney, which may be reinforced with metal wire in the case of a ruggedized version. In ornamental lamps, the glass may be etched or painted with various designs, which obscure the light, but make the lantern more interesting to look at. Colored glass can also be used, with colored hurricane lamps being used historically for signaling, since people in the distance could easily detect a red or green light from a hurricane lantern.

Although hurricane lamps are meant to be safer in drafts, they do pose a fire risk, especially in the case of kerosene or oil lamps. If the wick is turned up too high, the air inside the chimney may become quite hot, causing the chimney to explode. The shock of the explosion can cause the bottom part of the lamp to fracture as well, spilling oil which can rapidly catch fire. Explosions are also a potential risk with a candle-lit hurricane lamp.

As a general rule, hurricane lamps should never be left unattended, and the wicks of the candles and oil lamps used should be regularly trimmed. In addition to reducing the risk of fire, trimming increases efficiency, reducing the amount of soot produced by the lantern while it is in operation. People should also be aware that the glass chimney can be very hot with extended use, and it is not advisable to touch the chimney while the lamp is in use.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Illuviaporos - I'm not against people using hurricane lamps, because I also think they are an excellent back up and honestly I really like the way outdoor hurricane lamps look.

But you can get flashlights which double as lanterns and are just as sturdy.

And no matter how you cut it a lantern containing kerosene can be dangerous, particular if there are kids around.

If you want to have hurricane lamps and particularly if you anticipate using them in an emergency, you should make sure to learn how to use them properly.

It might not seem that difficult to thread in a new wick, for example, but it can be tricky and if your first go is in the dark during a hurricane you might never get the hang of it.

I would also suggest being very careful about where you keep the refills for the lamp, and keep it as clean and rust free as you can to help prevent any accidents.


A hurricane lamp is essential in some parts of the country, where they are aptly named. If you are in the middle of a storm and the lights go out, a hurricane lamp is an excellent backup.

They have the advantage of being able to put out light like a lamp, whereas most flash lights put out a very direct beam of light that isn't as useful if you are trying to comfort the kids, or keep people occupied.

Not to mention if you need to go outside for some reason, they are much easier to situate so that you can have your hands free to work on whatever needs tending to.

A flashlight can be very awkward in this kind of situation and you never know when the batteries are going to go out, or something is going to shake loose.

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