sea-storm of severest intensity, 1550s, a partially deformed adoption of Spanish huracan (Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés, "Historia General y Natural de las Indias," 1547-9), furacan (in the works of Pedro Mártir De Anghiera, chaplain to the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and historian of Spanish explorations), from an Arawakan (West Indies) word. In Portuguese, it became furacão. For confusion of initial -f- and -h- in Spanish, see hacienda. The word is first in English in Richard Eden's "Decades of the New World":
These tempestes of the ayer (which the Grecians caule Tiphones ...) they caule furacanes.
OED records 39 different spellings, mostly from the late 16c., including forcane, herrycano, harrycain, hurlecane. The modern form became frequent from 1650 and was established after 1688. Shakespeare uses hurricano ("King Lear," "Troilus and Cressida"), but in reference to waterspouts.
updated on September 25, 2018