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Click here for Galveston Hurricane of 1900 Discussion



Galveston Hurricane of 1900 ESS Analysis


Opening Statement:

In 1900, a massive hurricane and storm surge devastated the city of Galveston, Texas. Overnight, the town went from a prosperous, rising metropolis on the Gulf Coast to a flatland. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, with 6,000–12,000 people dying because they were not prepared for the storm. Lessons were learned. Modifications were made to land and property. Then, over 100 years later, another storm hit the Gulf Coast. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, taking over 1,000 lives and dislocating many, many more. Once again a hurricane nearly destroyed a coastal metropolis--this time New Orleans, Louisiana. Clearly we cannot stop severe natural phenomenons from occurring, but it is imperative that we remain vigilant in studying and preparing for such natural disasters so that the loss of life and property can be greatly reduced.


Problem Statement: 

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 delivered a valuable lesson on the seriousness of hurricane preparedness. Yet the nation was surprised yet again by the overwhelming effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So the question remains, have cities gone far enough to prepare for atmospheric changes that can lead to hurricanes and the resulting impacts to the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere that hurricanes can cause? In addition, are global climate changes impacting the severity and frequency of hurricanes, and if so, which areas around the world still need improvements in hurricane preparedness?


Recommendations/Possible Solutions: 

  • The Federal Government initiated a study to evaluate what went right and what went wrong during the nation's response to the most devastating hurricane to hit American soil. The result is the document: The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned, February, 2006. Figure 1.0 identifies specific challenges noted in that report. In each of the areas mentioned, the Department of Homeland Security listed specific recommendations for improvement in preparing for and responding to national disasters. We support the specific recommendations identified for improvement in each area.



Figure 1.0


In addition, our research has revealed concerns about changing climate patterns and a link between these patterns and some increases in the number and severity of hurricanes. According to the following chart with data from NOAA, the 10-year average remains about the same. 




However, the gap between highs and lows seems significant, and there is a discernable climbing trend. As such, we recommend worldwide global actions related to addressing concerns about global climate change:

  • First, we recommend that additional efforts be made to study the link between global climate change and the severity and frequency of hurricanes and other national disasters. With additional funding, more scientific studies can take place. Scientists disagree on this topic, and we simply need more data and international cooperation to better track hurricane trends and global climate patterns.
  • Secondly, because there is some evidence to support a link between hurricanes and rising global temperatures and the consequences of ignoring this data are huge, we recommend that nations work together to institute reforms and control measures to lessen activities known to cause climate changes.
  • As less-developed nations around the world adopt many of the consumption and industrialization habits of the United States and other developed countries, it is imperative that they learn as we are learning of the value of sustainable development practices and renewable energy resources. We recommend that developed nations set up programs to work with developing nations to balance development and population growth with cognizance of the effects upon the environment.
  • In addition, we recommend a global campaign to increase public awareness of the risks from natural hazards, like hurricanes and storm surge. This campaign should include an emphasis on how the actions of individuals can affect the environment. National Disaster Management Agencies could send representatives to speak at community events to raise public awareness and general disaster preparedness.


Our strongest set of recommendations pertains to the importance of educating the public on the topic of hurricane preparedness. While some of these actions are mentioned in the national report, we would like to emphasize the following:

  • When analyzing data regarding the yearly total of hurricanes, there is still a great deal of fluctuation. For example, even when the total number of storms does appear to go up, it doesn't necessarily reflect the total number of storms that will make landfall. With a greater ability to track storms today, we are better able to identify storms in the middle of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that might have gone unnoticed in the past. What definitely has changed over the years is our ability to track and forecast storm paths once a storm has been identified. While "spaghetti" models aren't 100% accurate, they give forecasters reliable information to warn mariners at sea and residents of coastal towns. Destruction of property might not be avoidable with these massive storms, but the loss of human life can be minimized with advanced warning. State and federal governments should focus on creating effective communication systems to disseminate information to the largest amount of people in the smallest amount of time.
  • We also should work on educating the public on the importance of listening to the experts and preparing for hurricane season. Too many individuals think they can "ride out the storm" and then later find themselves in very dangerous situations. While the structure they live in might protect them from the storm, city infrastructure and services might fail, leaving them without safe running water or electricity. Coupled with food and gas shortages, people who stay behind could find themselves in a very hazardous situation that could have been avoided had they evacuated the predicted storm area. Education can help people in storm-prone areas better understand these realities.
  • All individuals that live in hurricane-prone coastal towns should be informed on the importance of getting hurricane/flood insurance for their dwelling and stocking up on hurricane supplies such as canned goods, batteries, and bottled water. They should also have an emergency radio to monitor warnings and storm updates from local, state, and federal agencies. Individuals in these regions should also have a planned hurricane evacuation route, including a list of people they plan to stay with and a way to account for pets if local shelters or hotels do not allow them.






When solar energy is trapped in the atmosphere, energy builds over the ocean tropics. As this warm, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds. Fed by the ocean's heat and water, the clouds and winds spin and continue to grow. This process fuels the development of hurricanes, which creates storm surges that cause death and health hazards to ocean and land organisms and destroys their living habitats. Storm surges, winds, and flooding cause erosion, washing away topsoil and coastal areas and changing the face of the lithosphere.

Atmospheric moisture from seawater evaporation and spiraling wind patterns near the ocean's surface are two significant ingredients in the formation of a hurricane. Squall lines or disturbances (usually off the coast of Africa) provide the genesis for a hurricane (NASA Kids, 2003).

Hurricanes feed on warmth/heat in the atmosphere and hydrosphere, moving air upward as circulation continues (NASA Kids, 2003). According to Tim Heller, meteorologist at KTRK in Houston, TX, "Harvard University scientists have discovered that tall clouds in hurricanes can add moisture to the stratosphere and increase global warming, which in turn can cause hurricanes to get stronger, adding more moisture to the stratosphere." Scientists credit increased global temperatures from global warming as one of the causes for the increased severity and duration of hurricanes (Cohen, 2006).

Circulation from a hurricane converts water into water vapor (NASA Kids, 2003), putting more moisture into the atmosphere. Research has shown that water vapor has "increased by 50% in the last 50 years" in the "normally weather-free" stratosphere" (Heller, 2009).

Hurricanes can reduce the amount of vegetation growing on the lithosphere, either by uprooting them from the powerful force of winds, or by destroying the viability of soil by mixing salt and freshwater sources. Plants are consumers of carbon. So when a hurricane damages massive amounts of vegetation, there is an impact in the total number of carbon consumers in the area. This decrease in vegetation results in increased carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, which can contribute to global warming.




Warm ocean waters give a hurricane the fuel it needs to feed its "thermodynamic engine" (NASA Kids, 2003). Chad Cohen, a reporter from WGBH, noted that scientists have observed elevated sea surface temperatures (SST's) over the past 35 years (2006).

Hurricanes displace surface water as they circulate. Storm surge, the deadliest effect of a hurricane, is a water displacement on a massive scale. Hurricane Katrina, for example, "produced the highest storm surge ever recorded on the U.S. coast: 27.8 ft at Pass Christian, Mississippi." (Keiper, 2006). The 1900 Galveston Hurricane produced a storm surge of 15+ feet (ESSEA Module).

Hurricanes overwhelm the controls that humans have in place for water purification and distribution systems. Pumps fail when overcome by floodwaters from the hurricane. As a result, chemicals and sewage mix with water systems. The hurricane's wind and water forces then further disperse these contaminants. The water supply becomes undrinkable, and pestilence festers in floodwaters left behind by the hurricane.

Storm surges associated with hurricanes also bring massive amounts of saltwater inland. Fresh water sources are now contaminated by seawater, and salinity levels rise to dangerous levels that can kill local vegetation and marine animals. Salinity deposits in the lithosphere degrade soil, impeding the ability of farmers to raise healthy crops.

Increases in moisture inland, both in water sources and in the lithosphere, lead to increased amounts of evaporation in the atmosphere. The moisture rises to the stratosphere, which circulates and can contribute to changes in global temperatures. These changes can, in turn, cause hurricanes to get stronger.




The storm surge, flooding, high-speed winds, and tornadoes took a countless toll on wildlife and vegetation.

Hurricanes can have devastating effects on humans and other living organisms, whether by the projectiles cast about by high winds or due to drowning in significant surge of water. Livestock and crops important to human functions can also be seriously impacted, causing long-term changes to the human populations dependent upon those resources. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 had serious sociological effects. Prior to the event, Galveston was on the rise as a major seaport for shipping cotton and other goods. After the event, many businesses moved to Houston, which took a serious toll on the Galveston economy.

Vegetation is impacted as plants, including large trees, are uprooted and carried away. These objects can become projectiles, which can cause further damage to the lithosphere. One beneficial effect of soil displacement is soil delivery to areas that lacked any before.

Hurricanes displace and mix saltwater and freshwater sources, which alters the soil in upper layers of the lithosphere and can harm the growth of vegetation dependent on specific salinity levels. As a result, hurricanes can destroy crops and livestock that humans rely on as food sources. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi reported that 80 percent of poultry houses were damaged, with millions of birds killed. Additionally, roughly 20 percent of corn crops were destroyed and 10–15 percent of soybean crops were lost during the hurricane (Breazeale, 2005).

Nutrient-rich soils displaced by the wind and water of a hurricane reduce optimal growth conditions for local vegetation.

Eroded soils can pose problems for humans that require shelter to be constructed on solid ground. Erosion can lead to failing of shelter foundations and injuring/killing occupants.

Trees and tall plants provide a natural obstacle to slow the movement of a hurricane. Areas with little to no vegetation allow for unimpeded travel or a hurricane and retention of storm strength. So vegetation wiped out in area by a hurricane one year is more vulnerable from that time until the vegetation grows back.

Flooding can cause health problems to living organisms long after the storm has passed. Sewer contamination of the water supply, chemical spills, and other land and water pollutants can cause immediate damage to living tissues in plants and animals.

Phytoplankton in the hydrosphere experience tremendous growth following a hurricane and "may also affect the Earth's climate and carbon cycle" (NASA, 2004). Increases in phytoplankton can lead to increases in the organisms that prey on them. Because phytoplankton are at the base of many food webs, the explosion in their growth can lead to increases in many other marine populations.




As hurricanes circulate, they bring water forward and around in a huge displacement, known as a storm surge. Storm surges from hurricanes can cause significant erosion of the land. This erosion can cause major changes in the structure of coastlines. The Texas coastline features a chain of barrier islands. These can be worn away by the winds and water of the hurricane. Soil from the land surface is then displaced and deposited elsewhere.

Marshy barrier islands can provide a natural obstacle for hurricanes, draining away some of the energy as the storm moves inland. In the aftermath of hurricanes and prior to future storms, a lack of barrier islands and vegetation mean there is no natural barrier to slow the progress of the hurricane.

The winds of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane pushed a 15-foot wall of water over the city of Galveston. In response, humans erected a 10-mile-long sea wall for protection against future storms. The grade of 500 city blocks was also raised from one to eleven feet.

Storm surges push seawater inland, changing the makeup of local soils. Soil is contaminated with salt as well as being transported from beaches to inland locations. This change in the makeup of soil can adversely affect local vegetation and crops, and the organisms dependent upon them. Soil can also end up transported to places it is not wanted, such as city centers. Ecosystems are altered and thrown out of balance as organisms are killed and displaced by excessive water and the redistribution of sediments and soils.

Increases in moisture inland, both in water sources and in the lithosphere, lead to increased amounts of evaporation in the atmosphere. The moisture rises to the stratosphere, which circulates and can contribute to changes in global temperatures. These changes can, in turn, cause hurricanes to get stronger.




Breazeale, L. (2005). "Mississippi Crop Report". Retrieved from http://msucares.com/news/print/cropreport/crop05/050902.html on November 10, 2011.


Cohen, C. (2006). "Stronger Hurricanes". Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/stronger-hurricanes.html on September 25, 2011.


Heller, T. (2009). "Do Hurricanes Affect Global Warming, Which Can Affect Hurricanes?" (blog entry). Retrieved from http://weatherblog.abc13.com/2009/04/do-hurricanes-a-html on September 25, 2011.


Masters, Jeff (2011), β€œAre Category 4 and 5 hurricanes increasing in number?” Retrieved from: http://www.wunderground.com/education/webster.asp on November 12, 2011. 


NASA (2003). "How Are Hurricanes Created?" Retrieved from http://kids.earth.nasa.gov/archive/hurricane/creation.html on September 25, 2011. 


Stewart, R. (2009). Storm Surges. Retrieved from http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/resources/oceanography-book/stormsurges.htm on November 11, 2011.


Townsend, F. (2006). The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. Retrieved from http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/reports/katrina-lessons-learned/ on November 12, 2011.




Comments (11)

Previous User said

at 5:57 am on Nov 12, 2011

I added a few relationships, recommendations and an opening statement. I feel that the opening statements needs a bit more, not sure, please edit as you see fit.

Jennifer Henson said

at 12:07 pm on Nov 12, 2011

I combined the relationships into groups that cover all the spheres and interactions. I also edited the text and added details where I felt we were lacking. I did not have a chance to work on the opening statement, but agree with Nila. I also think we need to use Nila's article to further refine our recommendations. I'll revisit later today, time permitting.

Jennifer Henson said

at 3:01 pm on Nov 12, 2011

I spent more time on the opening and problem statements, as well as the recommendations. We need to talk!

Previous User said

at 4:08 pm on Nov 12, 2011

Wow Jennifer, you did an amazing job rewording the info. I added a graphic on the annual trends of hurricanes as per your recommendation on your email. I hope that's what you had in mind.

Ray Slapkunas said

at 10:43 am on Nov 13, 2011

I added a little more to recommendations. I think the focus should be on changing the mindsight of individuals. Technologies and building techniques help cities to better weather the storm but it local residents don't listen to information from the authorities, it sets up everyone for failure.

Jennifer Henson said

at 1:42 pm on Nov 13, 2011

Good idea, Ray. I wasn't feeling quite right about the emphasis on increased storms given the data we've seen. I'll rework and send y'all the latest.

Jennifer Henson said

at 1:46 pm on Nov 13, 2011

P.S. Nila, thanks for that great graphic. While the 10 year average is basically the same, there is indication of upward growth, so we don't need to throw out all our recommendations. I'm just going to make sure the emphasis is where we want it to be--on hurricane preparedness. Let me know if you guys disagree! That was what we discussed when we met, but if your opinion has changed since you've done more research, let me know.

Jennifer Henson said

at 1:52 pm on Nov 13, 2011

One more thing in case you were wondering. The Weather Underground used to be a radical leftist group. Since they are credited with the data chart above I did some research to make sure they were a credible resource. While the name of the organization today does refer back to the original radical group, it appears that the organization is focused solely on weather reporting and tracking today. Their information is gathered from credible sources (National Weather Service and NOAA to name two) and, I believe, they can be considered a reliable source today.

Previous User said

at 2:30 pm on Nov 13, 2011

Awesome work guys. I agree with you guys, the focus should be on people being prepared and informed.

Jennifer Henson said

at 2:49 pm on Nov 13, 2011

Excellent. I sent the latest version in an email for all to give one last review and just updated here.

Sharon Dressel said

at 11:18 am on Nov 19, 2011

I am sad to see this cycle come to an end! Hurricanes are a very familiar topic for me. Now we move on to the ocean...not nearly as familiar!!!

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