The Illuminators (Team 2) 1900 Galveston Hurricane Cycle a team Assignment

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The Illuminators (Team 2)

1900 Galveston Hurricane Cycle A Team Assignment

I. Proposed individual questions

The questions were posted in black and as they were addressed it was noted in blue.

Things I don’t really know:
1. What were the weather conditions like before the storm hit Galveston? Answered in part below

2. Were people given evacuation warnings? If so, why didn’t they leave?

This could be two questions Answered in part below
3. How much notice did the city of Galveston have before the hurricane made landfall? Answered in part below

4. What effects can be caused by the raising of the island by pumping sand from the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico? From one of the articles, it mentions that a later Hurricane caused damage to the sea floor by the movement of sand from the storm. That leads me to believe that if man pumps sea floor sand from it to build up another area, that damage or changes could occur as well.

5. What kinds of ecological effects did all the debris cause on the different spheres? Answered in part below (Karla).

6. How long did it take to clean up and rebuild? Still need research to support all that was done. General answers are below.

PBL Step 4: List what is unknown
Questions I have after reading the scenario?

1. Is it possible that the storms that have been historically intense are now increasingly devastating because of our populations and place where we live have changed? Some parts addressed, but need data of population growth and distribution for support.

2. According to the scenario, Galveston was totally unprepared. Why? Denial? Lack of knowledge? Answered in part below
3. Why did they think that the storm was going to turn northeast as it passed Florida Straits north of Cuba? What data kept them to only consider storms would only pass to the west? Answered in part below

4. Did they not have a way or experience to predict other possible storm tracks? Answered in part below

5. How did they rank the storms strength back then? Or did they? Answered in part below
6. When and who developed the category system for Hurricane rankings? Answered in part below (Team Question #3)
7. How did they prepare the citizens for the storm? Answered in part below
8. Were there any other storms that could have been used to compare to before 1900’s? Research still needed for team to see if could find trends or ideas.

What I don't know

1. The scenario says that the storm was tracked what were the storm tracking methods in the 1900'sAnswered in part below
2. How hurricanes are actually formed. I know this is lame but I live in Central Texas we generally see heavy rains during hurricanes. I did not grow up having to know when hurricane season is and it really is elementary weather but it has been a long time since high school. I can program robots to work through a hurricane. Answered in part below
3. More specifics about the evacuation plan and how it was implemented. Answered in part below


  1. Was the evacuation done properly? Date and time? Answered in part below

2. Could the massive deaths during the hurricane have been prevented? Answered in part below

3. How does a hurricane form? Answered in part below

4. Was the economy affected drastically from recreational places? (Shipping industry (of cotton)-yes)

5. Can another hurricane with category 4 or 5 be less destructive with an evacuation plan they have assigned? Part of our team problem statement to work out.


From our recent interactions on individual works and from our discussions, we suggest these questions to our team list for consideration: (we can narrow down if needed)

1. How were storms tracked and measured in the 1900's and evolved over time?
Joe : According to Dave Thurlow the national weather service was in its infancy. Based out of Washington all warnings came out of Washington and not from the local office. Thurlow states that Cline the head of the weather bureau in Galveston at the time had recently written an article on how a tropical Cyclone would not have any ill effect on the city of Galveston. Thurlow also states that the weather bureau choose to ignore warnings from Cuba.

Bobbie: Simpson (1998) discusses the tracking system in early years

“From 1891 the collection of weather reports, their analysis, and tracking of storm systems was done centrally in Washington. Warnings for coastal areas were issued to field offices where the official in charge was expected to rally the resources of the community to prepare for the impending threat and to deal with the consequences if a disaster did occur.”

And further information

Connected to Mr. Cline and his misjudgment of the severity of the storm until it was too late:

“An erudite, dedicated Weather Bureau official-in-charge at Galveston, Cline himself was swept away together with his wife, two children, and a brother, clinging to the wreckage of his residence, which collapsed in the extraordinary storm surge, and floated first into Galveston Bay, then, with shifting winds, back onto the island, a treacherous journey in which amazingly only Isaac’s wife failed to survive (Garriott 1900).”


Simpson, R. H., 1998: Stepping Stones in the Evolution of a National Hurricane Policy. Wea. Forecasting, 13, 617–620.


Karla: The first satellite was launched by US to view or monitor weather conditions was TIROS in 1960. TIROS' has not that capable of tracking storms compared to today's satellite technology, but it opened the door for meteorologists. It was 60 years after the tragic event that happened in 1900.
Bobbie: (also used in an answer below):

My review of a summary report from the National Hurricane Center indicated that “the track and intensity is not fully known” but the storm was detected in the Atlantic on August 27th, near Cuba as a tropical storm on Sept.3, and moved into the Gulf on the 5th where it rapidly intensified.

Bobbie: I read that Cuba had an observatory directed by Father Gangoite. In the article his observations he predicted heavy rains and that it would gain strength after getting back over the Atlantic waters. He was correct about this, but the article mentions he was wrong about its path. It continues to say that Florida observations (Jupiter, FL) measured its direction and wind speed.

It was tracked by forecasters at the US Weather Bureau office in Washington DC who “examined the amps and, using their knowledge of past hurricane behavior, expected the storm would curve along a northeasterly rack across Florida and then northward along the US east coast.” Interestingly, the Bureau “telegraphed a forecast to New Orleans at midday on September 5 stating that the storm ‘probably will be felt as far north as Norfolk [Virginia] by Thursday night [September 6] and is likely to extend over the middle Atlantic and South New England states by Friday’.” (

2. How has technology helped in storm preparedness, tracking, and responding to major storms like hurricanes?
Karla: NASA is concerned about the massive storms, hurricanes and cyclones that can impact us. NASA has developed a technology to view the center of the system. This technology has helped meteorologist get data in 3 hours from the time the satellite passes by the hurricane. The satellite helps them forecast changes in the hurricane’s direction and intensity. NASA is using Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. Also now and days we have different types of technology we can use to hear or see any important information about warnings or evacuations.
Bobbie: Sonar equipment was used to determine changes to the sea floor after a hurricane in 2008 (Ike) in Galveston.
3. How does a hurricane form?
Karla: Hurricanes are formed over the heat of the warm ocean waters that rises and mixes with cooler air that causes the winds and thunderstorms. The low pressure of the hurricane is in the middle or center called the eye that is why it is calm. Thunderstorms are on the outer edges of the hurricane.
Chris: Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) are formed in the tropical air, which is moist. They can develop in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. A tropical low pressure wave moves westward due to wind currents; some of these can develop further. During development of hurricanes, strong thunderstorms occur causing a drop in air pressure at the surface of the storm. Warm moist air from the ocean’s surface is attracted to the area of low pressure. Low level winds rotate in a counterclockwise direction around the center of the low pressure in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Coriolis force. The same force that causes you toilet water to go spiral in a certain direction when you flush.
Chris: Stages of Development for Hurricanes
Hurricanes go through a development cycle that has distinct stages. The first stage is a Tropical Disturbance. A tropical disturbance is defined as “a discrete system of clouds, showers, and thunderstorms that originates in the tropics and remains intact for 24 hours or more”. These tropical waves develop about every four to five days and they generally move from east to west. The next stage is Tropical Depression, which is when a tropical disturbance has counter-clockwise wind rotation around an area of low pressure. Maximum sustained one-minute wind speed of 38 mph (61 km/h) or less with an elevation of 33 feet (10 meters). A Tropical Storm is the third stage in the hurricane cycle. It is at this stage that the National Hurricane Center gives a name to the storm system. It has maximum sustained one-minute winds of 39-73 mph (63-117 km/h) at an elevation of 33 ft. (10 meters). A tropical storm is upgraded to a hurricane when it has sustained one-minute winds of at least 74 mph (119 km/h), at an elevation of 33 ft. (10 meters).

Chris: The current classification system for hurricanes was developed in the early 1970s by Herbert Saffir and Dr. Robert Simpson. Dr. Simpson was the director of the National Hurricane Center during that time. Hurricanes are categorized by a number (1-5) based on sustained wind speeds only, while previous scales also included central pressures. (
While Category 1 & 2 storms can be dangerous and destructive, storms above Category 3 are considered major hurricanes.


Sustained Wind Speed

Type of Damage


74-95 mph / 119-153 km/h

Damage to homes includes roof, shingles, siding, and gutters. Shallow rooted vegetation can topple and large tree branches can snap. Power outages can last days due to extensive electrical line and pole damage.


96-110 mph / 154-177 km/h

Major damage to roof and siding possible. Shallow rooted trees will be snapped or toppled and may block roadways. Power losses may be near-total and could last from days up to weeks.


111-129 mph / 178-208 km/h

Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.


130-156 mph / 209-251 km/h

Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.


157 mph or higher / 252 km/h or higher

A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.


4. What were the weather conditions like before the storm hit Galveston?
Karla: As per The Weather Channel it states that Dr. Isaac M. Cline was the meteorologist in charge of the local Weather Bureau at that time. He observed the storms by its high waves and rough seas that became stronger by the hour but the weather was calm that day September 7, 1900.
Bobbie: (

This article has more information about the weather changes over the course of a few days from the perspective of a captain of a boat on Sept, 6th and then how Cline was given notice about a hurricane on the 7th (AM) by the weather bureau. It continues that the weather bureau was “lacking any reports from offshore” and so it “failed to recognize they had a full-fledged hurricane loose in the Gulf.” That might explain why there was confusion or a lack of preparation at the time.

The article also notes how captains and others began to notice the barometric pressures were dropping, which is an indicator of a storm’s strength. They also watched the water swells increase in height and strength on Sept. 7th

Dr. Young (Secretary of the Cotton Exchange and Board of Trade) quoted as they described as the weather began to change on Sept. 8th in the Am until peak force time in afternoon.

5. What was the evacuation plan for the 1900 Galveston hurricane?

Joe : According to the report by Isaac Cline people were not told to leave but to seek shelter for the night. The public was warned over telephone and verbally to seek shelter.
Karla: As per the Weather Channel it states that Dr. Isaac M. Cline sent a telegram to Washington, DC, stating that he thought a large part of the city was going to be underwater. Dr. Cline predicted a destructive and massive loss by the way he was observing the ocean waters. As per Dr. Cline, he took a horse-drawn buggy and rode up and down the beaches, warning residents to seek higher ground. Some people took shelter in his house but unfortunately the winds grew stronger and the waves or tides rose very quickly at approximately 120 miles per hour.

Your responses from research make me curious about some other points.

I wonder why some thought they were not warned and others were?

Both of your answers connect to the same man. Did “higher ups” ignore what he thought?

Did people ignore what he was predicting?

Who decided that seeking shelter for the night would be okay?

Bobbie: My review of a summary report from the National Hurricane Center indicated that “the track and intensity is not fully known” but the storm was detected in the Atlantic on August 27th, near Cuba as a tropical storm on Sept.3, and moved into the Gulf on the 5th where it rapidly intensified. ** Maybe this rapid intensification took them by surprise and it was too fast to evacuate. *** The discovered information below shows that denial it would hit was probably more a cause and then it was too late to get out.
Bobbie: Simpson (1998) notes that “ Remarkably, warnings for this hurricane were credited by news accounts all over the United States as being excellent and timely (Garriott 1900), but went largely unheeded by a public that could not perceive the threat posed by the devastating storm surge that inundated the entire city. Its height, from various reports ranged from 12 to 20 feet (Rappaport and Fernandez-Partegás 1995). Clearly the failure at Galveston, which cost more than 8000 lives, was more one of communicating risks than of deciding what the risks were.”
Simpson, R. H., 1998: Stepping Stones in the Evolution of a National Hurricane Policy. Wea. Forecasting, 13, 617–620.


6. What has the State of Texas learned from the past to improve emergency planning?
Joe: Texas now has an emergency evacuation plan and uses online resources to help people prepare for evacuation. These resources are managed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot). The
Karla: I found an interesting website that the Texas of Health and Human Services is providing. This websites helps you plan your evacuation and prepare for any disasters that can occur. It has interesting facts about hurricanes, storms, cyclones, fires and more. The website is This can make a difference and can improve future massive disasters.

Simpson (1998) notes that other storms since 1900 did not have effective evacuation plans and why. He states:

“In none of these were warnings sufficiently timely, or public awareness—much less preparedness actions—worthy of mention. Each uniquely demonstrated that the policy of generating hurricane predictions and warnings from a central (and usually remote) location simply had not worked: first, because of the limitations of communication; second, because it was impossible for meteorologists at the single source to respond sensitively to the varying character of risks from one community to another in preparing and disseminating warnings.”

It suggests that predictions and warnings should not be from a remote or one place and communities should be actively involved.

7. It has been called the deadliest hurricane, do we know if the estimated number of deaths included any other people that died after it became “extra-tropical” and headed over Great Lakes, New England, and Canada?
Bobbie: My reading has stated in several articles that they really are not sure how many people died because they really couldn’t count all them. Estimates range from 6000-12000. I always assumed that was the direct hitting storm in Galveston. Then I began to think how many others due to flooding, raining, wind storms and such in the other areas (if any deaths).

Bobbie: An additional source stated that at least 6000 died in Galveston alone. ( This suggests that other deaths might have occurred elsewhere.
8. What was the actual damage to the spheres, in addition to the loss of lives?
Bobbie: I had read where the sea floor had actually been changes after a 2008 storm. It made me think about what changes that might have occurred in 1900 when they probably did not have the knowledge or equipment to detect and measure changes to the sea floor.

Other lithosphere changes to the barrier island and Galveston Bay inlet probably also occurred then by the storm surge that was reported at 15 feet. The 2008 (Ike) by comparison, had 12 feet and caused “underwater damage” to Galveston according to a Science Daily article


III. Team primary research assignments: * we all researched and added to other parts when we found helpful information. We added links to the team wiki also.
Birch: What was the storm’s build up and path? How was it tracked?

Joe: What did they learn from the storm to prepare for future storms?

Bobbie: How did Galveston prepare for the storm?

Karla: Damages of the storm; impact and aftermath
IV. Problem Statement(s)

(Ideas for debate and reflection)

Bobbie: Our team is being asked about how to prepare for increasingly intense storms using The Great Galveston Storm as a model. It seems logical to focus on the plans to protect lives and other biospheres as part of our foundation, but it also seems important to look at the causes of the “denial” that lead people to ignore an upcoming potentially dangerous situation no matter how much “proof” or predictions are given. Why? From the answers above and my reading, this seemed to play a role in the Galveston storm and in other storms in history. Joe had mentioned the idea that sometimes people will not go no matter what (seen in 1900 and Katrina) or that the governing people issue guidance to societies that might not be questioned or reasoned out for probabilities or accuracy. Examples of this include 1900 storm when they said “not going to come to Galveston” and Katrina when the citizens were warned to get out and those that stayed go to the Superdome (which was disastrous). So I think this should be included in some way in our statement focus.

Now that Hurricane Katrina has once again awakened us to the threat of extra strong hurricanes, your group has been called upon to conduct an Earth system analysis of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane as a case study in how to prepare for this increasingly dangerous threat from Mother Nature.

My thoughts on our problem statement

How can we use the events of the 1900 hurricane to help prepare for future disasters?


Revised Sunday 1st by Joe, 2nd by Bobbie
Because of denser populations in areas plagued by hurricanes, it is important to remember the past. Using the 1900 Galveston hurricane as a model, how can we become better prepared to handle storms of increasing intensity in more densely populated areas?
Let me know what you think? Joe, I added to it and made some punctuation changes

(Make sure I’m right; can we start a sentence with because?) :) BP

KARLA: Now and days we have technology that can help us analyze the hurricane or storm and find out the magnitude of it. We have many websites, television, radios and many other media that can help us learn to prepare or evacuate when a destruction is going to occur. In the 1900’s it was more difficult to communicate in a short period of time. Living in a place where hurricane or storms can hit you need to be prepare and always have an evacuation plan for protection.
Bobbie: (Saturday)

Here is my personal problem statement from my individual analysis. I based it on the scenario and task, what I had put before, and what we have been discussing and posting:

I am Ok with this. Joe

If storms are increasing in intensity and more people now live in areas where hurricanes could strike, how can the location and society be better informed and prepared to respond to their danger by learning from past hurricane events?

Chris: My personal problem statement
A quote from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, rings too true. Even in our modern society these oft paraphrased words fall on deaf ears. Our team will use the events of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane to help study, analyze, theorize, and experiment in order to lessen and hopefully prevent the amount of damage and losses should another hurricane of this intensity were to strike again.

KARLA: My problem statement:

Hurricanes and storms have made massive destructions. Even though we live in a society where technology has become one important tool to view and know the location and magnitude of a hurricane, how can the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 help us prepare and evacuate if another hurricane that massive hits us again.

Photo image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library.

Galveston Hurricane made destructive damage to the island the map shows the levels of destruction from the hurricane. The beachfront (the shaded portion of the city closest to the Gulf of Mexico) was completely lost. A swath of complete destruction, roughly bounded by 8th Street (east), 46th Street (west), and Avenue O (north), was the next level. Few buildings survived there. A zone of partial destruction, including the waterfront and the downtown area, occupied the innermost portion of Galveston. (GTHC, Rosenberg Library, 2003)

The hurricane being category 4 had strong winds of 130 miles per hour and 8 to 16 foot storm tides being a very destructive hurricane. After the hurricane, it left 3,500 homes and building destroyed and a death range of approximately 8,000 people. Property damage was an estimated of about 30 million dollars. Galveston builds a 16 ft. seawall to elevate the island.

(2003). Map of the 1900 Storm Damage. Galveston and Texas History Center Rosenberg Library. Retrieved from

V. Final Team Problem Statement
Because of denser populations in areas previously plagued by hurricanes, it is important to remember the past. Using the 1900 Galveston hurricane as a model, how can we become better prepared to handle storms of increasing intensity in more densely populated areas?

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