FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ron Tumbla
1900 GALVESTON HURRICANE
Nation's Worst Weather Disaster
Galveston, Texas -- One hundred years ago tomorrow, the great Galveston hurricane roared through the prosperous island city with winds in excess of 130 miles per hour and a 15-foot storm surge. When it was finally over, at least 3,500 homes and buildings were destroyed and more than 8,000 people were killed.
"That hurricane left the city totally devastated with the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States," said Bill Proenza, director of the National Weather Service Southern Region. "The number of people who lost their lives on that single day represents more than the combined fatalities resulting from the 325 tropical storms and hurricanes that have struck the United States since then. In fact, that single event accounts for one third of all tropical storm or hurricane-related fatalities that have occurred in this nation since it was founded," he added.
Since wireless ship-to-shore communication was not yet available in 1900, information was extremely sketchy and there was little if any knowledge that the hurricane was strengthening and heading toward Texas.
As the storm neared the Texas coast, Cline became increasingly suspicious of the weather. Convinced that a major storm was pending, he decided to raise the hurricane warning flags atop the Weather Bureau building on September 7th, the day before the hurricane struck. Throughout the 7th and the morning of September 8th, Cline continued to patrol the beach warning people to move to higher ground. With a population of more than 35,000 people, it is likely many more Galveston residents would have died without the warnings. In what would be the last message to reach the outside world, Cline said, "Gulf rising rapidly; half the city now under water."
With the terrible memories of the 1900 hurricane in mind, the people of Galveston began an unprecedented effort to protect their city from the next "big one." In 1902, they began constructing a 16-foot thick, 17-foot high sea wall covering three miles of oceanfront. They also began the monumental task of raising the entire island by as much as eight feet with sand dredged from Galveston Bay.
Today's sea wall has been extended to a length of 10 miles of oceanfront to protect the heart of the city.
As hurricanes approach, the National Weather Service's land-based Doppler weather radar network is used by forecasters all along the U.S. coasts to monitor storm movement. The National Weather Service has its National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., forecasting and warning for all tropical storms and developing predictive computer models of hurricane movement and storm surges. Recently, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) has been implemented to integrate all of the incoming data and distribute it to the NWS regional operations and forecast offices across the nation.
IN HARM'S WAY:
This problem is compounded by the fact that 80 to 90 percent of the population living in hurricane-prone areas has not experienced a "major" hurricane. Many have experienced weaker storm conditions and are left with a false impression of a hurricane's potential for damage.
"A significant hurricane still poses a tremendous potential for loss of life, particularly in heavily populated residential areas that are near sea level," said Proenza. "Only through continued public preparedness and education, can we assure the proper response that will avoid such disasters."