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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Had you heard of this natural disaster before? If so, do you live outside the immediate region where this hurricane occurred? I hadn’t heard of this major disaster – the hurricane that has killed the most people in US history and was the second costliest (when inflation is taken into account).

The path of the Galveston Hurricane
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This hurricane struck Galveston on September 8, 1900 in the late afternoon and into the night and early hours of September 9th. The hurricane killed somewhere between 6,000 to 12,000 people – with the most generally accepted death toll being about 8,000. The majority died from outright drowning or being crushed by floating debris. If they survived the initial storm, many others died after being unable to escape the wreckage and not being found by rescuers.

Makeshift morgue
Photo Credit:
1900 Storm

One of the stories that was most strikingly awful was that with that number of dead they had problems burying all of them. They tried burying them at sea, but the bodies washed back up on shore with the waves later that day! Then they resorted to giant funeral pyres. Imagine just surviving the wreckage of the storm and then having to see all those fires! They ended up handing out all the whiskey men could drink for those who helped with the dead.

The damage was extensive – to put it mildly. In 2010 US dollars, the damage was approximately 104.3 billion dollars. (And guess what, Galveston was hit by another hurricane 15 years later which racked up 71.3 billion dollars in damage – ranking it 4th behind the 1900 hurricane!).

panorama-largeA panorama of the Galveston damage
Photo Credit: 1900 Storm

It is interesting to think of hurricanes prior to these extensive meteorological predictions that we have today. To have had virtually no warning and then to find oneself in the middle of a Category 4 hurricane must have been extremely scary. Not only were there sustained winds of over 120 mph (the actual wind speed is estimated because the anemometer was blown off the building after topping out at 100 mph), but there was massive flooding from the storm surge.

But they did have some amount of warning – or at least the fledgling Weather Bureau did. They had received reports from incoming ships that had passed through a significant storm, as well as from the weather station in Cuba. However, the philosophy of the time was to mitigate the extremity of weather, to not really forecast (because they were primarily wrong even one day out), and also, believed that Galveston wouldn’t really be hit by a catastrophic hurricane. Isaac Cline and associates were not allowed to give a forecast of a major storm, even though their equipment began to show signs of incoming danger.

Meteorologist Isaac Cline
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Many people that day learned the hard way that Galveston was not immune to a hurricane.

You can watch this video from BookTV which features a meteorologist discussing the weather pattern of the hurricane as well as the author talking about the book. A very good segment!


Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I have indeed never heard of this storm. Sounds ridiculous, now a century later, that they were not allowed to give any forecast. Imagine how many lives could have been saved.

    1. I guess their general belief was that they shouldn't unnecessarily burden the populace with forecasts that were wrong more often than they were right. But yeah, if they had even been warned they could have moved inland and maybe more would have survived. Galveston in 1900 was seemingly subject to the same aura as the maiden voyage as the Titanic - that it just wouldn't happen to them.


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