The 1900 Storm: Galveston, Texas

1900 Galveston hurricane - Wikipedia


I chose the Galveston hurricane of the 1900 because it is the deadliest natural disaster to hit in America.  I did not know a whole lot about it and I have enjoyed digging deeper into the events that took place in Galveston.

The Galveston hurricane of the 1900 is to this day the deadliest natural disaster to happen in the Untied States.   The town of Galveston, Texas is a barrier island off the Texas coast established in 1838.  This town became more and more popular resulting in around 37,784 moving into the area.  Unfortunately this are did have a record of tropical storms and hurricanes which was hard on the town because it was a little less then 9 feet above sea level.  This resulted in the town asking for the state for money to put in breakwaters, a barrier built out in a body of water to protect a coast.  The state refused so in 1878 Galveston planted cedar trees on the coastline, and filled in areas with up to 9 feet of sand to better protect them from these massive storms.  By September 4th, 1900, the weather station in Galveston received it’s first notice of a hurricane coming northward from Cuba.  It was classified as a tropical storm at this point.  By September 8th, this tropical storm turned quickly into a category 4 hurricane.  The wind speeds recorded reached up to 80mph winds with gusts of 100mph.  It is still debated how fast the wind was blowing as most of the gauges flew from weather building.  Many scientist believe the wind speed reached up to 120mps as there was many heavy debris such as bricks flying at a horizontal angle through the air. To make thing worse, there was a 15.7 foot storm surge that flooded the town.  Due to the combination of buildings collapsing and the land flooding, around 6,000 citizens were pronounced dead mainly from drowning after being pinned under the debris.

This population was aware of flooding  which they did their best to prevent.  However, hurricanes were all too common for this population.  Advisory’s were announced on radio for citizens to move to higher grounds but many ignored this.  There was over 20 million dollars in damage, if you compare that to the value in 2009, that was around 516 million dollars.  Many states did events to help raise money for the island and donated around 1.25 million dollars.  It took the town of Galveston around 6 months before the last body they found.

After this tragic disaster, the community first developed a new form of municipal government.  Then they set forth in putting in a sea wall along the coast line in 1904.  This wall started off as 3 miles long, 17 feet above sea level, with the base as 16ft wide and 5 ft wide at the top. This sea is now currently 10 miles long but has the original width and height.  Before the rebuilding process, the city decided to raise the cities level to more than 16 feet in some areas.  Due to 2/3s of the houses and businesses being destroyed this effort was not as difficult as it seemed was finished in 1912.  Eventually the first building codes and regulations where put into place in 1914.  The wind load section made building required to resist a horizontal wind speed of 30 pounds per square foot.  The roofing however has no restrictions unless there was a building that had a height of 100 feet and a width four times the height.

August 16, 1915 another hurricane follows in the previous 1900 hurricane.  This one was similar as it too was a category 4 hurricane with over 100mps winds. The water from this was 3 inches higher than the 1900 hurricane.  All the new efforts in preventing a horrible disaster paid off. Only 11 people died from this Hurricane.  While people were safe inside the sea wall, 90 percent buildings outside the wall were demolished.


  1. This storm occurred in the early days of the weather bureau, precursor to the national weather service. People were in fact very confident that hurricanes could not be particularly strong on this section of coast, and were very cavalier about “man’s control over nature” – they LITERALLY had trams running on trestle bridges out into the ocean. Cuban weather forecasters understood hurricanes better than American weathermen, and this storm arrived with no real warning at all.

  2. This was very interesting to read about, especially after finding out it is the deadliest natural disaster to hit America. Usually, when you think of devastating disasters or weather in America you think of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or the fires in California. That could just be because we got to experience those in our lifetime or didn’t learn about older natural disasters in school.
    It was very tragic to read that almost 16% of the Galveston population died and it could have been prevented if the state government stepped in. The first thought in mind as to why they weren’t given the money is a similar thought I felt in writing my paper on the Sichuan Earthquake. I felt that the government in Sichuan and in Texas knew of the danger but since it wasn’t an immediate threat it was neglected. It took a big disaster for the government to learn their lesson and take care of potential issues before bad things can happen. Thankfully, Galveston did some planning and mitigation by adding and eventually expanding the sea wall, raising the city’s level, and updating building codes.

  3. I find this case interesting in that there is a clear distinction between the mindset during the time this hurricane occurred versus the present-day mindset. It is also tragic that Galveston was denied funds to implement breakwaters, which could have prevented some of the damages that ensued. I feel that the government should have paid attention to the fact that the population felt that hurricanes and various other linked hazards were a big concern, so much so that they ended up planting trees as an alternative mitigation strategy. What I like most about this case is how it shows the shift in mindset regarding mitigation efforts in that they have been increased over time. This is especially true with Galveston, given the implementation of sea walls, building codes, and other mitigation tactics.

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