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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1915- Galveston Hurricane

Fifteen years after a devastating hurricane wrecked Galveston, TX, another monstrous hurricane formed in western Atlantic, again destined to strike the port city. The classic Cape Verde-type hurricane was officially detected on August 10, 1915, between the islands of Dominica and Barbados.

Image of a city block filled waist deep with water
Flooding that occurred in Galveston following the Hurricane in 1915. Despite reaching waist deep heights, the flooding could have been much worse if the seawall had not been constructed following the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Source: Public Domain

It was first described as a Category 1 hurricane, though it is thought to have held tropical storm status for five days previous. Moving westward, the hurricane passed to the south of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on 11 August. Moving at about 32 km/h (20 mph), now in a northwesterly direction, the storm proceeded to impact the Greater Antilles and skimmed the northern coast of Jamaica on 12 August. On 14 August, the hurricane was close to Cuba’s Isle of Pines, having not been weakened by its recent interaction with land. Cuba was significantly impacted by the storm. The town of Cape San Antonio, on Cuba’s westernmost extremity, received heavy damage as the now Category 3 hurricane passed directly over it. The hurricane then tracked forward and steadily strengthened while doing so, having turned more northwesterly by the time it was over the central Gulf of Mexico on 15 August. By the time the hurricane was close to Texas, it had intensified to Category 4 status, displaying top winds of 217 km/h (135 mph). Very early on 17 August, the hurricane made landfall just to the southwest of Galveston, Texas at this peak intensity. The hurricane weakened quickly after landfall, downgrading to tropical storm status 12 hours later. After taking a sharp turn for the northeast over Texas, the storm proceeded to dump heavy rain as it moved across the United States causing damaging flash flooding in a range from Missouri to New York. Exact numbers for damage and deaths are not known. It finally dissipated over southern Quebec on 23 August.

Texas residents, remembering the disastrous hurricane that struck their state 15 years earlier, said the power of this hurricane was equal to that of its predecessor and its duration twice as long. However, flooding was greatly hindered in Galveston by the construction of a new seawall following the catastrophic 1900 hurricane, even with a 4.9 m (16.2 ft) storm surge. Flooding of up to 1.8 m (6 ft) did occur in the city’s business district. Perhaps one of the greatest wind induced monetary loss came from the grounding or sinking of sea vessels. In Houston, damage totaled $1 million as most buildings received some sort of damage. All or most of the crops in the entire eastern half of the state were affected, especially the cotton crop where most was blown away or flattened by the rain. Corn and rice crops also suffered greatly from the wind and rain. Overall, the hurricane directly killed 275 people, with the possibility of up to 400 because of missing persons and an unknown death toll in Cuba. The hurricane caused $50 million (1915 USD) in damage.

Fast Facts:

  • Just over a month later, another hurricane made its way to the Gulf Coast. Louisiana was affected again, this time more severely, as the Category 4 hurricane struck New Orleans. Just like the Galveston hurricane, this storm claimed 275 lives. This ties both storms as the 13th most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history.
  • The construction of the Galveston seawall following the disaster in 1900 certainly did its part in protecting the lives and property of city residents. While 275 people died throughout the state of Texas as a direct result of the hurricane, only 11 occurred in the city of Galveston. Noting that roughly 90% of the homes on Galveston Island outside of the seawall’s protection were destroyed can identify other evidence of the success of the seawall.
  • The passage of the hurricane through the Yucatán Channel and the Gulf of Mexico caused 101 shipping related deaths. The most notable sinking was the U.S. steamer Marowjine, which sank after departing Belize while the storm was nearby taking 96 lives.
  • Several hundred boast of varying sizes and purposes were wrecked along the Texas and Louisiana coasts as a result of the hurricane. In fact, ten days after the hurricane came ashore, 11 large vessels still lay grounded in the vicinity of Galveston. One ship smashed to bits atop the seawall when its anchors snagged the wall as it rode the storm surge.
  • Researchers have normalized hurricane damages in the United States for years between and including 1900-2005 and determined that, by 2005 USD, the 1915 Galveston Hurricane would have been the 4th costliest hurricane in U.S. history at a cost of $68 billion. It would rank behind the Great Miami Hurricane (1926), the 1900 Galveston hurricane and Hurricane Katrina (2005), respectively.


Frankenfield, H.C. “The Tropical Storm of August 10, 1915.” Monthly Weather Review. August 1915. Pp 405-412. Web.

“1915 Galveston hurricane.” Wikipedia. 2010. Web.

“Hurricane 2 (08/05 – 08/23).” Weather Underground. Retrieved 2010. Web.

Pielke, Roger A., Jr. et al. “Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005.” 6 Nov. 2006. Web.

Roth, David. “Texas Hurricane History,” National Weather Service. 14 Jan. 2010. Pp. 34-35.

“Deadliest U.S. Hurricanes.” Weather Underground. April 2007. Web.

Roth, David. “Louisiana hurricane History.” National Weather Service. 14 Jan. 2010. Pp. 29-30.