Summer in Texas is reminiscent of hot nights, back to school and the return of football. But it also means something else to Gulf Coast Texans: hurricane season. As summer seas cause storms to form and swirl, a keen eye must turn to the weather to avoid peril and destruction from the most powerful types of storm known to man. Over the years, Texas has been hit by incredibly powerful hurricanes.
Hurricanes that hit Texas form in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. A tropical depression forms when several storms come together in a single rotating system. Once this system has sustained winds above 39 miles per hour, it becomes a tropical storm. It hits the force of a hurricane with sustained winds of 74 miles per hour. Hurricanes can form between March and December, but usually occur between June and November. Hurricanes produce all types of weather-related disasters: deadly lightning, hail, strong winds, torrential rains and tornadoes.
During World War II, forecasters in the United States Air Force began to name storms, usually after their wives or girlfriends, to avoid confusion over several storms that could pass through the storms. seas at the same time. In the 1950s, civilian forecasters began to use these names. A more formalized system of naming storms after women in alphabetical order began in 1952, with the names of men added to the rotation in 1978. The introduction of meteorological satellites in the early 1960s significantly improved forecasting and tracking hurricanes. In 1961, the Tiros-III satellite tracked the first hurricane from space. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reconnaissance flights into the heart of hurricanes and Doppler radar systems introduced in the 1980s also help identify potential landing sites, wind intensity, and flood hazards.
The first recorded hurricanes in Texas date from years of Spanish exploration of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. In the 16th century, no forecasting or tracking technology existed, posing extreme dangers to sailors unknowingly venturing into the heart of these storms. In fact, the word “hurricane” is derived from a Spanish word taken from the names of the gods of storms and winds used by various natives of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf Coast. The first recorded hurricane to hit Texas hit a Spanish merchant fleet just off Galveston Island in 1527. The rare November hurricane killed nearly 200 people.
Sparse populations left many storms unrecorded, but a 1766 hurricane in the Galveston area destroyed a Spanish mission on the Trinity River. Galveston was hit again in September 1818 by a hurricane that flooded the island under four feet of water and damaged nearly every building on the island.
In 1875, a hurricane hit the thriving port town of Indianola, not far from Port Lavaca. Almost 300 people have died. The community rallied and rebuilt, but an 1886 hurricane destroyed the city again. Dozens more perished in the storm, but residents abandoned the city instead of rebuilding it. The county courthouse was moved to Port Lavaca the following year and the post office closed. Nothing remains of the city today, with the remains dragged into the sea by erosion or covered by sands.
Hurricane Galveston of 1900 was the worst natural disaster in American history. The storm devastated the island, flooding it to a depth of nine feet. The entire city was destroyed, with more than 8,000 dead. The storm caused the collapse of the city government, ultimately leading to a whole new form of government to rule the city and a new sea wall to protect the island. A 1915 hurricane was the big test for the sea wall. Although the storm was intense and 400 people died, the city was largely untouched.
Hurricane Alice in 1954 caused intense flooding along the Rio Grande Valley, with two feet of rain pouring over Del Rio. Advances in forecasting helped prevent an even worse disaster from occurring from Hurricane Carla in 1961. More than half a million people were evacuated from the Texas coast during one. of the most intense storms recorded to date. Over $ 325 million in damage has been caused (over $ 2.8 billion in 2021 dollars) and 31 people have died. Tropical Storm Claudette dumped 54 inches of rain on Alvin in July 1979, the highest amount of precipitation in a twenty-four hour period in the country’s history. In 1980, Hurricane Allen claimed 269 lives and over $ 1 billion in damage (or over $ 3 billion in 2021 dollars). Allen has spawned deadly tornadoes as far inland as Austin.
Although landing takes a toll on hurricanes, the strength of storms often does not dissipate quickly. Sometimes the remnants of these storms still have wind speeds close to hurricane strength as far away as the Waco area, as happened with Hurricane Carla in 1961 and Hurricane Alicia in 1983. Alicia a killed 13 people and caused $ 2.6 billion in damage, the most expensive storm in state history to date. Hurricane Ike would exceed that figure with 84 dead and nearly $ 20 billion in damage in 2008. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 flooded Houston with four feet of rain, a disaster of almost biblical proportions.
Forecasting and tracking technologies have improved dramatically. With proper planning and heeding the warnings of meteorologists, hurricanes don’t need to cost lives.
Ken Bridges is a native of Texas, a writer and professor of history. He can be contacted at [email protected] The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.