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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1900- Galveston

At the end of the 19th century, Galveston, Texas was booming with a population of approximately 40,000 residents. It was the largest city in the state of Texas, and it had become a thriving commercial port. Since the city’s formal founding in 1839, Galveston had weathered numerous tropical storms, all of which the city survived. On September 8, 1900, however, the Great Galveston Hurricane roared ashore, devastating the island with 130-140mph winds and a storm surge in excess of 15ft. In its aftermath, approximately 8,000 people (20% of the island’s population) lost their lives, making the hurricane the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history up to that time. Thirty-six hundred buildings were destroyed, and damage estimates exceeded $20 million (in 1900 USD; $516 million in 2009 USD).

Old map with a track of the hurricane.
A chart depicting weather systems from September 8, 1900. The area of activitiy near Texas is meant to show the Galveston Hurricane and corresponding weather. Source: NOAA

Although the history of the hurricane’s track and its intensity are not fully known, U.S. Weather Bureau forecasters were aware of the tropical system as early as August 30, 1900. It reached Cuba as a tropical storm on September 3, inundating Santiago with over 610 mm (24 in) of rain in just two days. Cuban forecasters in Havana, closely monitoring the storm, predicted rapid intensification with the system passing through the Florida Straits and then moving northwestward into the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. forecasters, however, believed the system would recurve, track to the northeast, and impact the mid-Atlantic. Wireless ship-to-shore communications were not yet available. Therefore, there was no way to know when and where the hurricane would strike for certain. The storm did not curve towards the northeast, and as it moved into and over the Gulf of Mexico, it rapidly intensified, so much so that by the time it reached the Texas coast on the evening of September 8, it was a Category 4 hurricane with 225.3 km/h (140 mph) winds.

The citizens of Galveston did rebuild in the wake of this great hurricane, and in doing so, have been recognized in achieving a remarkable feat of civil engineering: the grade of the entire city was raised and a seawall was built to protect it. Within a decade, 500 city blocks had been raised by 0.3-3.3 m (1-11 ft) with sand dredged from Galveston’s ship channel. During the same period, a seawall spanning nearly 50 blocks was constructed, providing protection for the heart of Galveston. The seawall was tested in 1915 when a Category 3 hurricane battered the Texas coast with 193.2 km/h (120 mph) winds and a 4.9 m (16 ft) storm surge. Although the city sustained serious flooding and the wall was damaged, a repeat of the 1900 devastation was avoided.

Fast Facts:

  • The highest measured wind speed for the great storm of 1900 was 100mph, taken just after 6:00pm on September 8, 1900, right before the Galveston Weather Bureau’s anemometer was blown off the building.
  • A barometric pressure reading of 28.55inches (~967mb) was recorded in Galveston, 48.3 km (30 mi) from where the eye of the storm is best estimated to have passed. The lowest central pressure for the hurricane was estimated to be 931mb.
  • Although Galveston was rebuilt, it never regained its previously prominent place in Texas’ history, mainly due to the emergence of Houston, several miles inland (connected to the Gulf by a canal).


Divine Wind, K. Emanuel (will need to double check pages)

Barry D. Keim and Robert A. Muller. 2009. Hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana State Press, Baton Rouge. Pp 1-15.

NOAA Hurricane Preparedness site (Hurricane History):

"Galveston's great storm". In: Library of Natural Disasters- Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Other Tropical Cyclones. 2008. Editor in Chief, Paul A. Kobasa. World Book. Chicago Pp 20-21

NOAA History- Special Report on the Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900

NOAA 200th Feature Stories- The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900- history references

The Handbook of Texas Online, Galveston Hurricane of 1900-

Time Magazine- The 1900 Galveston Hurricane. By Amanda Ripley. September 15, 2008.,8599,1841442,00.html

Wikipedia: 1900 Galveston Hurricane