Much of Galveston Destroyed by Hurricane 119 Years Ago
Tropical storm Dorian has dominated the headlines over the past week, and meteorologists are reportedly keeping an eye on two more storms brewing on both sides of the U.S.
The 24-hour news cycle loves a good tropical storm because it gives them plenty of material to fill time with. Plus it's an excuse to send someone in a poncho to a windy beach for dramatic images.
As much as sensational reporting on storms makes me chuckle, I'm actually grateful to live in a time when I can so casually flip on a TV or whip out my phone and see what the weather is doing and if I might be impacted.
The people living in Galveston in 1900 weren't so fortunate. They had almost no warning before what's now known to have been a category 4 tropical storm blasted two-thirds of their island into oblivion.
According to NOAA, there were about 40,000 people living on the island at the time. It was a major port with a booming economy, and around this time of year there'd be hundreds of tourists enjoying the end of summer there.
Among those living in Galveston was Isaac Cline, local director for the Galveston Weather Bureau. (There was not yet a National Weather Service.) In July 1891, Cline penned an essay for the Galveston News claiming it would be impossible for a strong hurricane to strike Texas, or for any storm to create a wave that might "materially injure the city."
On the morning of September 8, 1900, however, Cline became concerned by reports of a storm that had raged over Cuba and was headed across the Gulf of Mexico toward the Texas coast. NOAA reports that Cline boarded his horse-drawn cart and drove to the beach, warning everyone he could to get to higher ground immediately.
Galveston would be hit by a storm surge of 15.7 feet and winds reaching in excess of 130 miles per hour.
The Rosenberg Library records that by the time the storm was over, over 3,600 homes were destroyed and upwards of 8,000 people were dead.
In response to the devastation, Galveston officials called for the construction of a 17-foot seawall and the raising of 40 city blocks.
Officials had proposed a seawall in the past, but Cline had assured them it wasn't necessary. It'd be easy to look back on that and blame Cline for the destruction, but he was armed only with the knowledge and experience available at the time, and history records that he tried to save as many lives as he could before and after the storm and remained at his post. That wouldn't be easy to do today, much less in 1900.
Galveston's destruction taught Texas and the world valuable lessons about hurricane preparedness and the need for serious study of storm prediction. However, NOAA reports, the city never flourished again as it once had, and Houston rose to prominence as Texas' port of call.
So yeah, the guy standing on the beach yelling into a microphone while people dance naked in the wind behind him is fun to goof on, but I'll take that over mere minutes warning of a deadly storm coming my way any day. The people lost in Galveston 119 years ago would probably feel the same.