1900 Galveston Hurricane
|Category 4 hurricane (SSHS)|
|Surface weather analysis of the hurricane on September 8, just before landfall.|
|Formed||August 27, 1900|
|Dissipated||September 15, 1900 (Becameextratropical on September 11)|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained:
145 mph (230 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||936 mbar (hPa); 27.64 inHg|
|Damage||$20 million (1900 USD)|
|Areas affected||Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico,Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Florida,Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas,Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa,Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Eastern Canada|
|Part of the 1900 Atlantic hurricane season|
The Hurricane of 1900 made landfall on September 8, 1900, in the city of Galveston, Texas, in the United States. It had estimated winds of 145 miles per hour (233 km/h) at landfall, making it a Category 4 storm on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. It was the deadliest hurricane in US history, and the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history based on the dollar’s 2005 value (to compare costs with those of Hurricane Katrina and others).
The hurricane caused great loss of life with the estimated death toll between 6,000 and 12,000 individuals; the number most cited in official reports is 8,000, giving the storm the third-highest number of deaths or injuries of any Atlantic hurricane, after the Great Hurricane of 1780 and 1998‘s Hurricane Mitch. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. By contrast, the second-deadliest storm to strike the United States, the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, caused more than 2,500 deaths, and the deadliest storm of recent times, Hurricane Katrina, claimed the lives of approximately 1,800 people.
The hurricane occurred before the practice of assigning official code names to tropical storms was instituted, and thus it is commonly referred to under a variety of descriptive names. Typical names for the storm include the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Great Galveston Hurricane, and, especially in older documents, the Galveston Flood. It is often referred to by Galveston locals as The Great Storm or The 1900 Storm.
The storm’s origins are unclear, because of the limited observation ability at the end of the 19th century. Ship reports were the only reliable tool for observing hurricanes at sea, and becausewireless telegraphy was in its infancy, these reports were not available until the ships put in at a harbor. The 1900 storm, like many powerful Atlantic hurricanes, is believed to have begun as aCape Verde-type hurricane—a tropical wave moving off the western coast of Africa. The first formal sighting of the hurricane’s precursor occurred on August 27, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east of the Windward Islands, when a ship recorded an area of “unsettled weather.” The storm passed through the Leeward Islands on August 30, probably as a tropical depression as indicated by barometric pressure reports from Antigua.
Three days later, Antigua reported a severe thunderstorm passing over, followed by the hot, humid calmness that often occurs after the passage of a tropical cyclone. By September 1,U.S. Weather Bureau observers were reporting on a “storm of moderate intensity (not a hurricane)” southeast of Cuba. Continuing westward, the storm made landfall on southwest Cuba on September 3, dropping heavy rains. On September 5, it emerged into the Florida Straits as a tropical storm or a weak hurricane.
The storm was reported to be north of Key West on September 6, and in the early morning hours of Friday, September 7, the Weather Bureau office in New Orleans, Louisiana, issued a report of heavy damage along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Details of the storm were not widespread; damage to telegraph lines limited communication. The Weather Bureau’s central office in Washington, D.C., ordered storm warnings raised from Pensacola, Florida, to Galveston. By the afternoon of the 7th, large swells from the southeast were observed on the Gulf, and clouds at all altitudes began moving in from the northeast. Both of these observations are consistent with a hurricane approaching from the east. The Galveston Weather Bureau office raised its double square flags; a hurricane warning was in effect. The ship Louisianaencountered the hurricane at 1 p.m. that day after departing New Orleans. Captain Halsey estimated wind speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h). These winds correspond to a Category 2 hurricane in the modern-day Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.
By early afternoon on Saturday, September 8, a steady northeastern wind had picked up. By 5 p.m., the Bureau office was recording sustained hurricane-force winds. That night, the wind direction shifted to the east, and then to the southeast as the hurricane’s eye began to pass over the island just west of the city. By 11 p.m., the wind was southerly and diminishing. On Sunday morning, clear skies and a 20 mph (30 km/h) breeze off the Gulf of Mexico greeted the Galveston survivors.
The storm continued on, and later tracked into Oklahoma. From there, it continued over the Great Lakes while still sustaining winds of almost 40 mph (as recorded over Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and passed north of Halifax, Nova Scotia,
on September 12, 1900. From there it traveled into the North Atlantic where it disappeared from observations, after decimating a schooner fleet fishing off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
At the end of the 19th century, the city of Galveston, Texas, was a booming town with a population of 37,000 residents. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico made it the center of trade and the biggest city in the state of Texas. With this prosperity came a sense of complacency.
A quarter of a century earlier, the nearby town of Indianola on Matagorda Bay was undergoing its own boom and was second to Galveston among Texas port cities. Then in 1875, a powerful hurricane blew through, nearly destroying the town. Indianola was rebuilt, though asecond hurricane in 1886 caused residents to simply give up and move elsewhere. Many Galveston residents took the destruction of Indianola as an object lesson on the threat posed by hurricanes. Galveston is built on a low, flat island, little more than a large sandbaralong the Gulf Coast. These residents proposed a seawall be constructed to protect the city, but their concerns were dismissed by the majority of the population and the city’s government.
Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, all of which the city survived with ease. Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events. In order to provide an official meteorological statement on the threat of hurricanes, Galveston Weather Bureau section director Isaac Cline wrote an 1891 article in the Galveston Daily News in which he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island. The seawall was not built, and development activities on the island actively increased its vulnerability to storms
Read more about it here @ the archives of Alpha Omega M.D. beginning about Episode #96