Galveston, Texas; A Deadly History of Hurricanes

When August rolls around in Galveston, Texas, townies tend to listen better. They’re paying attention to the weather.

On August 17, 1915, a hurricane swept through Galveston changing the beach forever, but it was nothing compared to the devastation only 15 years earlier.

The 1900 Galveston Hurricane remains one of the most deadly weather-related disasters on record. Had it not happened, the 1915 hurricane could have been much, much worse.

These were neither the first hurricanes nor the last, but they were two of the most important. The 1900 showed Galveston how hard mother nature could hit, but the 1915 showed mother nature the resolution of Texans.

Forging Galveston

The island we know today as Galveston, Texas, was once a Spanish colony. The first Spanish explorers sailed around the coastal waters of east Texas in the 16th and 17th centuries.

There was no Houston, no Texas, not as we know it today. It was more like Spain at that time. In fact, when it came time to incorporate Galveston, they named it after the first governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez, a Spaniard.

The attraction to the island back then was the same as it is today. When it’s not hurricane season, the weather is lovely. The beaches are long.

As the port to Houston, and a major port for Texas and consequently the United States, Galveston has been a center of commerce and international excitement since Europeans first arrived.

Long before them, long before anyone, tropical storms also came to port.

A History of Violence

Well before the 20th century, as far back as we have records, Galveston has been a target for storms.

The dates of direct hits and brushes (where the edge of a storm brings mad rain and wind) started in 1871. Not ten years passed after that without at least a brush.

Look at the separation between storms: 1877, 1879, 1880, 1882, 1886, 1888, 1891, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1899, and 1900.

Between the 1900 storm and the 1915 one, there was another in 1909. The tropical storms that still beat the shores of Galveston stretch forward in time too, at roughly the same cadence.

Galveston remains like an oak on the shore.

September 8, 1900

When the 1900 hurricane hit Galveston, a 15-foot surge covered the streets like the ocean intended to sink the island.

At that time, the city was only nine feet above sea level, and that city wasn’t quite the metropolis it is today. Nonetheless, the destruction was tragic.

In addition to razing many homes and buildings, the storm took more lives than they could track in 1900. There were some 6-8,000 lives lost that day.

The reaction to the storm was to build a massive seawall, which would help, but nothing would hold back the storms. Next time, they’d be ready for it.

August 17, 1915

It was 102 years ago when the people of Galveston got their chance to test their seawall. A category 4 hurricane that landed that August day.

Experts measured the winds at 135 mph, as strong as the 1900 storm by the accounts of townies who’d been there. In fact, the 1915 storm lasted twice as long by their accounts, but only 11 people died.

What changed was two items. There was a warning that went out to warn the island, and they had a seawall this time.

The forces of the storm reshaped the beach forever, but they didn’t destroy the town.

According to the ABC affiliate in Texas, “if this same [1915] hurricane hit Galveston today, it would produce over $71 billion in damage on its way through Texas, making it one of the top 5 costliest hurricanes on record.”

We would talk about Katrina and the 1915 hurricane in the same breath.