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Galveston Hurricane of 1900

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Jessie Phallon
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« on: September 07, 2007, 11:04:31 pm »

Warning signs

On September 4, the Galveston office of the U.S. Weather Bureau began receiving warnings from the Bureau’s central office in Washington, D.C. that a “tropical storm” had moved northward over Cuba. The Weather Bureau forecasters had no way of knowing where the storm was or where it was going.

Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico were ripe for further strengthening of the storm. The Gulf had seen little cloud cover for several weeks, and the seas were as warm as bathwater, according to one report. For a storm system that feeds off moisture, the Gulf of Mexico was enough to boost the storm from a tropical storm to a hurricane in a matter of days, with further strengthening likely.

The storm was reported to be north of Key West on September 6, and in the early morning hours of Friday, September 7, the Weather Bureau office in New Orléans, Louisiana issued a report of heavy damage along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Details of the storm were not widespread; damage to telegraph lines limited communication. The Weather Bureau’s central office in Washington, D.C. ordered storm warnings raised from Pensacola, Florida to Galveston.

By the afternoon of the 7th, large swells from the southeast were observed on the Gulf, and clouds at all altitudes began moving in from the northeast. Both of these observations are consistent with a hurricane approaching from the east. The Galveston Weather Bureau office raised its double square flags; a hurricane warning was in effect.

The ship Louisiana encountered the hurricane at 1 p.m. that day after departing New Orléans. Captain Halsey estimated wind speeds of 150 mph (240 km/h).

Weather Bureau forecasters believed the storm would travel northeast and affect the mid-Atlantic coast. “To them, the storm appeared to have begun a long turn or ‘recurve’ that would take it first into Florida, then drive it northeast toward an eventual exit into the Atlantic.” Cuban forecasters disagreed, saying the hurricane would continue west. One Cuban forecaster predicted the hurricane would continue into central Texas near San Antonio.

Early the next morning, the swells continued despite only partly cloudy skies. Largely because of the unremarkable weather, few residents heeded the warning. Few people evacuated across Galveston’s bridges to the mainland, and the majority of the population was unconcerned by the rain clouds that had begun rolling in by midmorning.

Isaac Cline claimed that he took it upon himself to travel along the beach and other low-lying areas warning people personally of the storm’s approach. This is based on Cline’s own reports and has been called into question in recent years, as no other survivors corroborated his account.

Cline’s role in the disaster is the subject of some controversy. Supporters point to Cline’s issuing a hurricane warning without permission from the Bureau’s central office; detractors (including author Erik Larson) point to Cline’s earlier insistence that a seawall was unnecessary and his belief that an intense hurricane could not strike the island.

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