Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the Galveston hurricane of 1900: how did these events, the preparation, response and the aftereffects differ for these two hurricanes that hit a similar region, 108 years apart?

Throughout history, the United States has faced many natural disasters and catastrophes. Natural disasters such as hurricanes result in great economic losses. It is impossible to prevent the unpredictable disaster; it is only possible to prepare for it based on the geological environment where one lives. For instances, Galveston, Texas is a city that has been victims of some of the greatest natural disasters in the history of the United States. The two main hurricanes that overwhelmed the city of Galveston were Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900. Within the 108 years, our technology and knowledge allowed us to be more prepared, therefore reducing the numbers of casualties and economic losses.

Background of the Event:

Galveston Hurricane of 1900:
The storm like many other Atlantic Ocean hurricanes is believed to have originated as a Cape Verde-type hurricane, which is a tropical wave moving off the coast of Africa. Signs of the first formal sighting of the hurricane were recorded by ship records on August 27, 1900. Over the next couple days after the first sighting, severe thunderstorms passed through many islands, which were followed by hot and humid climates. As the storm continued to move westwards (as seen in Figure 1), winds began to hit Florida and soon after the hurricane devastated Galveston, Texas with tremendous force. On September 8, 1900, Galveston, Texas was hit by a category 4 hurricane with gust of winds up to 135 mph and 15 foot surges of water that destroyed the 8.7 foot island called Galveston. Together, the wind and the water destroyed everything in their path; therefore it is now considered one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history. Weather forecasters intensively tracked the hurricane as it moved northwest over Cuba to the southern part Louisiana.

Physical geographers had said that because of the long, gentle slope of the adjacent sea bottom, Galveston was safe from the full fury of tropical storms. And experience had seemed to support their claim. Although Galveston had been hit fairly hard by major storms in the past--particularly in 1875 and 1886--the loss of life had been very small compared to that of other Texas Gulf Coast communities. Galveston Island is a long, narrow barrier beach that runs parallel to the Texas coast some two miles away across Galveston Bay. The City of Galveston occupies the eastern end of the island. In 1900, the island and city were connected to the mainland by "the longest wagon bridge in the United States" and three wooden railroad trestles. Galveston is literally a city built on sand. In September 1900, the sand was only 8.7 feet above sea level at the highest point. In most residential areas, street levels ranged from 4 to 7 feet above, with an average elevation of only about 4.5 feet.
Figure 1: Path of the Great Hurricane of 1900

Hurricane Ike of 2008:

Hurricane Ike also originated near the end of August as a Cape Verde-type hurricane off the coast of Africa. On September 1st, 2008, it became a tropical storm west of the Cape Verde islands. Soon after, on September 5th,2008, Hurricane Ike turned into a category 4 hurricane, with gust of winds up to 145 mph, which was considered the most intense storm in the 2008 hurricane season. Hurricane Ike traveled northwest towards Galveston and Houston just like how it did in the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Finally, it hit Galveston on September 13, 2008 as a category 2 hurricane with wind speeds of 110 mph. After hitting Galveston (as seen in Figure 2), Hurricane Ike moved northeast where it began to lose strength 100 miles east from Dallas.
Figure 2:Location of Landfall

The Great Galveston hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike was like déjà vu all over again. These hurricanes originated as a Cape Verde-type hurricane off the coast of Africa and became a category 4 hurricane. The only difference is that upon land fall, in 1900 the hurricane was a category 4 and in 2008 the hurricane was a category 2, which meant that wind speed and pressure was greater in 1900. Even though, there was a difference in the category of the hurricane, Galveston had less property damage and casualties in 2008 than 1900 due to the fact that in 2008 the United States was more informed and prepared.


Great Galveston hurricane of 1900:
During the Galveston hurricane, the waves and winds from the category 4 hurricane destroyed boats, bridges, and buildings. Over 3,600 homes were destroyed (as seen in Figure 3) and 8,000 to 12,000 people died. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is considered the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States. The Galveston hurricane estimated damage of 44 million in 1900, which is about 99.4 billion today.
Figure 3: Aftermath of the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900

Hurricane Ike of 2008:

Hurricane Ike was said to be a category 4, but by the time it hit Galveston, it dropped down to a category 2. Over 2.5 Gulf Coast residents were left without power and damage forecast is about 25 billion (as seen in Figure 4). According to the sources, about 2000 people were rescued, 82 people were killed and 202 are still missing. Hurricane Ike is considered the 3rd destructive hurricane to ever hit the United States. There were less property damage and casualties due to the increase in prepartion and awareness, and also because it was a category 2 hurricane, instead of a category 4 hurricane like the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900.
Figure 4:Aftermath of Hurricane Ike of 2008


According to the sources, it is said that during the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900, people were very vulnerable to hurricanes. There were not many preparation plans, because most of the tracking of the hurricane was provided by radio reports from ships at sea, which meant that by the time people got the information, it was too late. Weather forecasters during that time expected that the hurricane would move northeast, like how most of the other hurricanes did. Galveston’s only sources of protection from the hurricane were sand dunes along the edge of the city, which had been removed to create better beach access. As that being said, there was little warning and no defense at all, therefore the amount of damage and casualties were tremendous. Only a few amounts of residents took advantage of the little warnings that were given and took it upon themselves to evacuate across the Galveston’s bridges to the mainland, and the majority of the population was unconcerned about the warnings and waited the storm out.
Galveston, Texas has developed better preparation for hurricanes within the 108 years. When the time finally came for another major natural disaster such as Hurricane Ike, there were less property damage and casualties because after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, Galveston raised the island surface by 3 meters and built a giant 17 feet high sea wall. The reason why there were still a great number of casualties is because people are ignoring the earlier warnings of the hurricane. It is understandable that during the 1900 there was little warning to evacuate, but now and days, our technology is so sophisticated that people can be warned over a week in advance, but still an estimate of 140,000 people still refuse to evacuate.


The response time during the 1900 and now is totally different. During the 1900, the United States was not highly developed like we are today. The damage to the infrastructures and the telegraph lines in Galveston prevented the city from communicating with the mainland. The only communications were from messengers that were sent out between the city and the mainland, which took about half a day to send messages. These messengers were sent out on ships that survived the hurricane. The citizens of Houston were ready for assistances, and workers were set out by rails and ships. As one can see, the response time was really inefficient and only surrounding cities can offer aid within a reasonable amount of time.
There is a tremendous increase in response time with all the technology that we have now, therefore there were more people rescued from Hurricane Ike than the Great Galveston hurricane of 1900. The United States now has ability to send people from around the country within a couple of hours. We also have search and rescue volunteers and first aid from the American Red Cross. Even though we have all these technology and man power, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is still being accused of having slow response time.

Technology does make a huge difference, with the assistance of advanced technology, (such as Synoptic weather forecasts, communication tools, Polarimetric Doppler Radar, Multi-angle Imaging Spectro Radiometer, scatterometer, and those technologies mentioned above), it’s useful to forecast the hurricane to mitigate its damage to the lowest level possible. Hopefully, scientist can invent more useful advanced technologies that can help prevent horrible destruction that natural disasters might bring to us.


Weatherwise; Aug90, Vol. 43 Issue 4, p190, 9p, 2 illustrations