Historical Hurricanes: 1900-1940
Some of the more devastating ones included the 1900 hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas, the one which struck the Florida Keys in 1935, and the storm that swept through New England in 1938.
The Galveston Hurricane Of 1900 The deadliest hurricane in United States history hit the coast in 1900.
It began as a tropical storm in the central Atlantic on August 27th and followed a path south of Hispaniola. As it moved over Cuba on September 3rd and 4th, it remained a tropical storm. It rapidly intensified through September 5th and 6th and reached hurricane status as it passed just west of Key West, Florida, on the 6th. Reports of high seas, fierce winds and heavy rain were common in the Florida Keys.
The hurricane made an abrupt turn to the west in the eastern Gulf of Mexico on September 6th and began a journey that would lead to the Texas coast. As the hurricane gained speed and intensity, residents of the Louisiana and Texas coastal areas began to prepare for the storm. No one could imagine what was to happen.
Dr. Isaac M. Cline, the meteorologist in charge of the local Weather Bureau, lived on Galveston Island, just off the Texas coast. Cline was aware of a storm out in the Gulf based on previous reports from Florida. Although weather conditions were relatively calm on September 7th, Dr. Cline observed the rough seas and the high waves that seemed to become more ominous by the hour. He sent a telegram to Washington, DC, saying he thought a large part of the city was going to be underwater. He predicted a very heavy loss of life.
Cline took a horse-drawn buggy and rode up and down the beaches, warning residents to seek higher ground. Forty-eight people took shelter in Dr. Cline's house.
As the hurricane approached, the winds grew fierce and the tide rose quickly. Wind gusts of over 120 miles per hour pierced Galveston Island and the seas rose to over 20 feet in height. Thirty-two of the 48 people who took refuge in Cline's house, including his wife, drowned in the storm surge.
The Galveston hurricane was a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Over 6,000 people lost their lives, mostly in the Galveston area. More than thirty-six hundred homes were destroyed and damage was estimated at over $30 million.
The storm maintained tropical storm strength as it tracked up through Oklahoma and Kansas. It then weakened and moved through the Great Lakes, over the St. Lawrence River and back out over the North Atlantic Ocean.
The Florida Keys Hurricane Of 1935 The 1935 Florida Keys Hurricane was the strongest hurricane to hit the United States coastline this century.
The 1935 Storm became a tropical storm on August 29th just to the north of Hispaniola. It tracked westward during the next four days and reached hurricane status north of Cuba on September 1st. It then intensified very rapidly and turned more northward toward the Florida Keys.
The storm struck with great ferocity, especially in the middle Keys. The eye of the hurricane passed over the middle Keys on September 3. Wind gusts were estimated at an incredible 150 to 200 miles per hour on some of the Keys. Many railroad workers, mostly World War I veterans, lost their lives trying to evacuate as their railroad cars were swept off their tracks by the storm surge. The death toll exceeded 400.
The Florida Keys hurricane was a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, one of two hurricanes this century to reach the United States at that intensity. The other was Hurricane Camille in 1969.
After passing the Keys, the hurricane weakened and made landfall north of Cedar Key, Florida late on September 4th. The storm weakened to tropical storm strength as it reached Georgia. It became a hurricane again after if passed back out over the North Atlantic Ocean near Norfolk, Virginia.
The New England Hurricane Of 1938 Although several hurricanes have struck the New England area this century, long time residents will never forget the 1938 New England hurricane. The storm was a traditional Cape Verde storm that began as a tropical wave off the coast of northwest Africa during the first week of September.
As it progressed across the Atlantic, it first became a tropical storm, then was upgraded to a hurricane on September 15th, well to the east of Puerto Rico. By September 19th, it began to curve as it passed north of Hispaniola. By this time, it was a strong hurricane.
A cold upper trough located near the Great Lakes pulled the storm northward, and it moved rapidly. Because the hurricane never struck any islands, sparse ship reports gave the only clues to the intensity of the storm. There were no satellite pictures to alert meteorologists about the storm's forward speed. By late morning on September 21st, it became apparent that the storm would stay near the east coast of the United States and move north.
The storm moved very rapidly. At about 7:00 AM on the 21st, it was east of Cape Hatteras. By 2:30 PM, the eye of the hurricane was over Long Island. The unusual speed of the hurricane made it impossible to issue hurricane warnings. Forecasters had no idea the storm would be traveling at 70 miles per hour.
The storm reached Long Island and southern New England with great ferocity, with a high surge and incredible wind gusts. The tide completely enveloped Fire Island on the south side of Long Island. Over 150 homes were destroyed at Westhampton. There was massive destruction to coastal areas on Long Island and the coastal areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour were measured at New London, Connecticut, and gusts of over 180 miles per hour were recorded at the Blue Hill Observatory south of Boston, Massachusetts. Providence, Rhode Island, experienced terrible flooding as the tide, even inside the city, rose to almost 14 feet.
Damage was not confined to coastal areas. In Hartford, Connecticut, there was widespread wind damage and significant flooding around the Connecticut River. In Springfield, Massachusetts, over sixteen hundred trees were felled by the fierce winds.
During the night the storm weakened as it moved to the north-northwest along Lake Champlain. The 1938 storm was a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Damage exceeded $306 million and six hundred people were killed in the storm.
Other historical hurricanes include Audrey in 1957, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the United States, Camille, and Agnes, which drenched the Northeast in 1972.
More recent storms include Hugo, which made landfall north of Charleston, South Carolina, and Andrew, which hit the U.S. mainland twice in 1992.