Texas Hurricane History

I came across a fascinating, though slightly dated study by David Roth of the National Weather Service called “Texas Hurricane History”. The 80-page document is filled with trivia that will let you astound friends and family.

Texas Hurricane History From 1527 to 2008

It starts with a section on climatology, then has a list of Texas hurricanes dating back to 1527. The list goes up through Ike in 2008.

Next, there’s a section on hurricane records. It shows dates, wind speeds, deaths, minimum central pressures, origins, tracks and more. Finally, there are numerous chapters devoted to hurricanes by century that contain historical narratives on each major storm.

The Last Indianola Hurricane: A Prequel to the Great Galveston Hurricane

Most people in Houston have heard the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900. And there’s a lengthy discussion of it in Roth’s history. The storm changed the course of this region’s economic development.

But I had never before heard of the “Last Indianola Hurricane.” Long before Galveston, a Category 4 storm changed the history and economic development of another part of Texas by wiping out another of Texas’ major ports.

The city of Indianola was founded on the west shore of Matagorda Bay in 1844 by immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, and France. It quickly grew to handle the business west of there, but fell prey to frequent hurricanes including one in 1875 that killed 176 people.

Image from Calhoun County Museum: Debris from the 1875 hurricane that hit Indianola, Texas. The town rebuilt after the storm only to destroyed 11 years later. 

On August 18-20th, 1886, Indianola suffered a fatal calamity in another hurricane. Says Roth, “Winds increased throughout the night of the 19th. Matagorda Bay began to invade the city by daylight on the 20th. The wind increased to 72 mph before the Signal Office building collapsed; the observer was killed by a falling timber during his attempt at escape. A lamp in the office burned down the building, along with more than a block of neighboring buildings on both sides of the street, despite the heavy rain. Although the storm was of shorter duration than the one in 1875, winds were considered higher. A storm surge of 15 feet inundated the region, covering the base of the Matagorda Island lighthouse with four feet of water. A large schooner was carried five miles inland.” 

“The town was a universal wreck; not a house that was left standing was safe to dwell in,” says Roth. “Most people in town left for the greener pastures of Victoria and San Antonio.”

In this part of Texas, that’s a lesser known prequel to the Galveston hurricane of 1900 that killed more than 8,000 people. But the effect was the same. It led to the rapid growth of safer cities farther inland.

Amazing Facts from Texas Hurricane History

For those who think only recent hurricane have high winds, Roth points to Hurricane Celia that hit Aransas pass in 1970 with 180 mph winds.

And before Harvey, four storms dumped 40″ or more of rain on Texas (in 1921, 1978, 1979, 2001).

Roth’s Texas Hurricane History is a work of scholarship. It contains an eight-page bibliography containing hundreds of references to books and newspaper articles, some of which date back more than 125 years – long before the digital age made such research easy.

For future reference, I will also link Roth’s history to the Reports Page under the Major Storms tab.

As Roth says in his preface, “More hurricanes will strike Texas over the coming years. Learning what happened in past storms can help to prepare you for the future. If the past is ignored, mistakes made in previous storms are likely to occur again.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/4/2021

1467 Days since Hurricane Harvey