Galveston, oh Galveston

Steve's picture

 Most everyone can recall the names of some recent hurricanes -- say, Katrina or Andrew. Being from Pennsylvania, I remember Hurricane Agnes way back in 1972. She still ranks as the State's worst natural disaster. Weighed in terms of casualties however, no storm compares with the Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900. 

At the dawn of the 20-th century, Galveston was a prosperous city, built on not much more than a sandbar, perhaps 2 meters above the sea.  The subject hurricane, then tropical storm, passed over Puerto Rico and Cuba on September 3-4, then basically "disappeared" into the Gulf of Mexico.  In 1900, there were no weather satellites, no doppler radar, no storm hunter airplanes. Hurricanes COULD just disappear. On Sept. 8 the storm, now hurricane, made entrance at Galveston’s door virtually without warning.

From noon till 6 PM pressure dropped and winds increased. Then, over just an hour, the seas rose 4 to 5 meters. By 8:30 PM, they rose another meter still.  You might imagine that for a city at 2 meter elevation, that can't be good. People scrambled first to upper house floors, then to house attics, then to house roofs-made-rafts. Amid the crashing debris, surf, and 100 MPH winds, some 12,000 residents were killed. Galveston all but vanished.

I've made the YouTube movie below to explain the events and give the science behind them. Perhaps too, the video provides a visual taste of the story.

I've never been to Galveston. Most anything I know of the place comes from a Glen Campbell Song -- 'I still hear your sea winds blowin'.  Like any population hard on a tropical sea however, today's residents should be thankful for modern science and technology. True, science and technology might not save the city from destruction in a Galveston Hurricane yet to be, but unlike the lost souls of 1900, folks today should have warning and time to make good their escape.

Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz

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