The dog days of summer spell hot conditions around here but they also coincide with the height of the hurricane season in the North Atlantic. August and September have on average the greatest number of hurricanes, though there has been a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin at least once in every month except February. The big boppers typically come in August and September. Camille in 1969 with 200 mph winds was a August storm, as was Andrew and Katrina. The greatest natural disaster in US history was the Galveston hurricane. If you look on a map of famous storms, it simply will say “September 1900.” Galveston is on a barrier island chain that stretches along the entire Texas Coast….really nothing more than a wide sandbar.
They don’t know exactly how many people were killed but it runs between 6000 and 12000. The storm surge was such that Galveston Island was completely covered by the Gulf of Mexico and there was no way off the island. The death toll is inexact because the island was cut off from the rest of the world for days and the bodies were all piled up in debris. They tried to bury them at sea but after a few days, the bodies washed back on shore so huge funeral pyres were set with many of the victims unrecognizable. At the time, Galveston was the “Wall Street of the South”, was the financial leader in the South with I think the second busiest port in the country and had about 50,000 residents as the largest city in Texas. Following the storm, the first public/private financed public works project was begun: The Houston Ship Channel. Today, Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, is the global headquarters to many petrochemical companies and has numerous foreign consulates. The port of Houston is the second busiest in the world with nearly 50% of the nation’s refining capacity within 50 miles of downtown Houston. In short, Houston, which had maybe 25,000 residents in 1900, by 1970 was everything Galveston was in 1900 all because of a hurricane. The Army Corps of Engineers raised the entire Galvestion Island by some 14 feet and built a 15 foot seawall to protect the city. Another stronger hurricane hit the island in 1915 but had minimal damage.
Today, Galveston is not much bigger than it was in 1900 with about 60,000 residents. Houston has over 2 million with greater Houston being home to about 5 million. A storm surge of 6 feet still leaves all routes to the mainland impassable.
If you have vacation plans next week, pay attention to Dean. Its just a tropical storm now but is forecast to move toward Jamaica in 5 days with winds at least at 120 mph. Do not be surprised to see it more formidable than that. Though its not totally clear now, I suspect it will be a major Gulf hurricane, but a lot of things can happen. However, the potential is there. If it doesn’t go into the Gulf, then it will go into Mexico or maybe across the isthmus of lower Mexico and emerge in the Pacific. If it does and it holds together, then it would get a new name. All of those scenarios are greater than the prospects of it going up the east coast. Tropical Storm Erin will move into South Texas in the next 36 hours with the biggest threat being rain. Tropical systems that are not well defined can often produce tremendous amounts of rain and the fear is that water logged Texas from Houston to the Hill Country will get entirely too much additional rainfall. When I was a kid, Tropical Storm Claudette meandered into the Houston Area…the hometown of Nolan Ryan, Alvin, got about 44 inches of rain in 24 hours. I think that is still the national record for daily rainfall.