The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

TheGalveston Hurricane of 1900

TheGalveston Hurricane of 1900

Naturaldisasters, including the hurricanes, have been a common occurrence inthe history of the world. Although the increase in human knowledgecoupled with technological advances has resulted in successfulprediction of some natural disasters, most of them are hard to stopor even run away from. This is because their prediction can only bedone a short while before they occur, making it hard to evacuate allpeople and property. To this end, the most important action thatpeople can take during disasters is to respond to them and minimizetheir impacts where possible. This paper will address the GalvestonHurricane that occurred in 1900 in Galveston City, Texas. TheGalveston was a fourth category storm with winds running at 145 milesper hour at landfall (Weems, 2014). The barometric pressure atGalveston during the storm was recorded as 28.55 inches. Although theUnited States has experienced a series of hurricanes in its history,Galveston can be classified as the most deadly and the second mostcostly storm in the entire history of the United States.

Meteorologicaland prediction difficulties

Meteorologicalstudies were less advanced in the late nineteenth century and earlytwentieth century and people relied on the ships to predict thepossible occurrence of hurricanes. This means that people in themainland waited for ships to put in the harbor and bring the news oftheir experience in the seas (Frank, 2000). Moreover, the infantstage of the wire telephony and media made it quite difficult tocommunicate the information about the awaiting hurricane. Althoughthe exact cause of the Galveston Hurricane is unknown, it is believedthat the deadly hurricane originated from the western side of theAfrican coast, before moving towards America. The first precursor ofthe hurricane was reported on August 27, 1900 when the first shipexperienced a zone of unsettled weather about 1,000 from the WindwardIslands (Frank, 2000).

Thestorm was experienced on 30th August in Antigua in the form of atropical depression, before the occurrence of a severe thunderstormin about three days later. Severe impacts of the storm became evidentin the first few days of September, especially in the Southeast sidecoast of Cuba. The Weather Bureau of the United States Managed todetect the steady destructive wind on September 8th, but it changeddirections frequently and advanced towards the mainland at a highspeed and a surge of 15.7 feet high (Frank, 2000). This made itdifficult to make any significant warning announcements or evenevacuate people and their property. Therefore, many people werecaught off-guard and destroyed by the hurricane in spite of the factthat some early warning signs had been detected in more than a weektime.

Preparationfor the Hurricane

Althoughthe warning signs of the hurricane had been detected by 30th ofAugust, the National Weather Service of Galveston received the firstinformation regarding the great storm on 4thAugust (Frank, 2000). Bythis time, the storm was at an advanced stage, but the limitedcapacity of the weather bureau and weather service agencies could notallow them to determine where the storm was headed to and the exactareas that could be affected. Apart from the lack of ability of theBureau to predict the direction of the storm, there were differentagencies that attempted to make different predictions. This confusedmany people and made evacuation a difficult exercise since it wasdifficult to determine which prediction was accurate. For example,Weather Bureau of the United States projected that the storm wouldproceed northwards while the Cuba weather forecasters projected thatthe storm would proceed to Texas and affect the central areas closeto San Antonio (Larson, 2000). These were two agencies that wereexpected to give reliable information, but their limited capabilitiesresulted in the delivery of frustrating prediction, making itdifficult for the residents to prepare in advance.


The Galveston Hurricane had social, economic, and political impacts inall areas that it affected. From a social perspective, the hurricanecan be considered as the most deadliest in the U.S history because itresulted in the loss of about 6,000-8,000 lives within a few days ofits occurrence (Martinez, 2013). It was quite a difficult time forthe deceased families and the society at large. It was difficult fora society to perform funeral rituals and bury the dead in a dignifiedmanner given the large number of copses. The dead were collected andthrown into the ocean, while others were burnt. Moreover, familymembers were separated from each other, which resulted intopsychological challenges. In addition, the fact that men who survivedthe storm were forced to take part in the exercise of collecting thedead bodies at gunpoint was an addition social as well aspsychological distress.

Themassive destruction caused by the storm affected the economy ofGalveston and many other places (including the New York City) thatthe storm passed over. It is estimated that more than 3,600 homes andmany commercial buildings were destroyed in Galveston (Frank, 2000).In addition, the hurricane destroyed the local infrastructure(including the roads and railway lines), which made the movement ofgoods and people quite challenging. This affected the local economyin a negative. It is also reported that the industries located inGalveston relocated to Houston as a result of the harsh economic andenvironmental conditions in the region. Weems states “the stormlifted debris from one row of buildings and hurled it against thenext row until eventually two-thirds of the city” (p. 1). It isestimated that the destruction caused by the hurricane was worth $ 30million (Martinez, 2013).

Otherimpacts of the hurricane are classified as political andenvironmental. The political governance of the city was changedfollowing the formation of a new city government, which facilitatedthe formulation of tax legislation and the sale of bonds with theobjective of raising funds for the elevation of the destroyed areas(Martinez, 2013). In addition, the management of the city experiencedsome change. Martinez states “Deep Water Commission was created tohandle future natural disasters” (p. 1). The environment waspolluted by deposits brought by the storm to the mainland anddecaying human bodies.

Aftermathof the Galveston Hurricane

TheGalveston Hurricane destroyed a lot of properties, leaving survivorswith little or nothing to live on. Survivors were forced bycircumstances to live in temporary camps provided by the U.S. Army.People nicknamed Galveston the “the White City” due to the largenumber of white tents occupied by survivors of the hurricane(Patricia, 2000). A few survivors were able to construct storm-lumbershelters using some salvaged material. Prior to the occurrence of theGalveston Hurricane, Galveston was known as the most prestigious andbeautiful city, which attracted investors and development. However,most of the development projects and investments were shifted to thenorthern regions, including Houston. For example, a ship channel wasdredged in 1909 in Houston, which reduced the hoped of the hope ofGalveston regaining its former glory of the major business city inthe region (Patricia, 2000).

Themassive destruction caused by the hurricane forced the government tosignificant changes to protect the affected regions from the futuredestruction. The government constructed a 3 miles and 17 feet highseawall was constructed along the coast of Galveston to protect thecity from massive destruction in the future (Patricia, 2000). Thecity was also raised up to 17 feet using the dredged sand. Theprocess of raising the city resulted in the elevation of more than2,100 buildings above the previous level (Frankenfield, 2000). Thiswas done to ensure that future storms will not cause an equivalentdamage to the city.


TheGalveston Hurricane is recorded as the most deadly and the secondcostliest hurricane in the history of America. There are three majorfactors that contributed towards the severity of the GalvestonHurricane. First, agencies that were expected to forecast weatherconditions were less competent and could not predict the occurrenceof the hurricane early enough to allow successful evacuation.Secondly, there were no effective means of sharing information, whichincreased the length of time required for ships to pass informationto the mainland and the relevant agencies concerning the weatherconditions in the deep seas. Third, different agencies gave differentpredictions regarding the direction of the hurricane, whichfrustrated the process of evacuating people since it was not clearwhich regions would be affected. Lastly, there were sufficientmeasures put in place (such as the seawall) to protect the city fromstrong storms.


Frank,L. (2000). Thegreat Galveston Hurricane of 1900.Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

Frankenfield,C. (2000). Thetropical storm.Washington, DC: Weather Bureau.

Larson,E. (2000). Isaac`sStorm.New York: Vintage Books.

Martinez,M. (2013). Galveston Hurricane of 1900. PreziInc.Retrieved December 30, 2014, from

Patricia,B. (2000). Galvestonand the 1900 Storm.Austin: University of Texas Press.

Weems,J. (2014). Galveston Hurricane of 1900. TexasState Historical Association.Retrieved December 30, 2014, from