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The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900

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The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Remembering the deadliest natural disaster in American history

Library of Congress image of Galveston hurricane damage

A view of the devastation caused by the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. The destruction wrought by the hurricane brought forth a new focus on the study of hurricane prediction. (Library of Congress)

In the summer of 1900, Galveston, Texas, was a thriving commercial city perched on a low-lying barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and the Texas mainland. It was an economic boom-town, a major port with over 40,000 inhabitants.  End-of-summer tourists flocked to the wide beaches with sweeping vistas of the Gulf of Mexico.

An opened passageway in the debris, North on 19th Street, Galveston, Texas. (Library of Congress)

But on September 8, 1900, a horrific hurricane slammed into the city. Wind speeds surpassed 135 miles per hour, making it a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  Storm surges rose 15 feet and, within hours, estimates of 6,000 to 12,000 unwary people were killed and over 3,600 buildings were destroyed. The Galveston Hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in United States history.

Although Galveston was rebuilt, it never reestablished itself as the major port of call it once was. The city was soon overshadowed by Houston, some miles inland and connected to the Gulf of Mexico by a canal. The devastating destruction of the Galveston hurricane brought a new focus on the study of hurricane prediction.  

Today, the National Hurricane Center detects, predicts, and issues warnings for dangerous storms and hurricanes. Geostationary satellites provide continuous surveillance that helps determine the location, size, and intensity of developing storms. Powerful computers and sophisticated programs help provide longer, more accurate track forecasts. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts National Weather Service official warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.