Storm FAQs

The staff of the Galveston & Texas History Center has compiled this list of FAQ's in response to the demand for factual information about the 1900 Storm. If you do not see your question on this list or you would like additional information about the 1900 Storm, please contact an archivist.

#1 When was the Great Storm?

The 1900 Storm struck Galveston on Saturday, September 8, 1900. The morning began with high tides and scattered rain. By early afternoon, water from the Gulf of Mexico flooded the southern and eastern streets. The wind speed increased, becoming severe by 4:30 p.m. By nightfall, the island was completely flooded and winds reached in excess of 80 mph. The wind gauge at the Weather Bureau office blew away after recording winds of approximately 100 mph.

All firsthand accounts of the 1900 Storm report that the waters began to recede and the wind subsided near midnight.

#2 Where did the term "Flood" come from?

We’re not quite certain who first coined the phrase "Galveston Flood," but it is inaccurate. As with other hurricanes, a storm surge resulted from the wind piling up the waves offshore. When the storm surge crashed into the island, it caused a great deal of damage.

#3 How many people died?

There is no exact count of the total number of victims from the 1900 Storm. Many scholars accept the number "over 6,000." Some accounts reported as many as 12,000 deaths. We believe that the number in all likelihood reached between 7,000-8,000.

#4 What was the population of Galveston in 1900?

The 1900 Federal Census, taken in June 1900, records the total population of the city of Galveston as 37,789. This number is disputed by the Galveston city directory of 1901-02, which claims that because the census was taken in June, many business men and their families were out of town on vacation. The Galveston city directory of 1901-02 then claims that by its records the population in 1900 was 42,210.

#5 What resources does the Rosenberg Library have on the 1900 Storm?

The Galveston & Texas History Center is the nation's main repository for materials related to the 1900 Storm. Here is a listing of our manuscript materials and a brief description of each. Books and other secondary sources that mention the 1900 Storm are available. A listing of our photo holdings regarding the 1900 Storm is also available. Also, you can view a map of 1900 Storm damage.

#6 How do I obtain a photo of the 1900 Storm for publication?

Please see our photo reproduction policy.

#7 My relatives supposedly drowned or died in the Storm. How can I find out more information about them?

We recommend that first you establish that the family lived in Galveston at the time of the Storm. You can do this by checking the 1899-1900 Galveston city directory located in the Galveston & Texas History Center. This directory lists the head of the household, his occupation and where he lived. Also check the 1900 Federal Census for Galveston County. Taken in June 1900, only three months before the Storm, it lists the family members, their ages, birth month and year, occupation, and whether they immigrated to the United States and in what year. Finally you should check the lists of the dead, including pamphlets, books, and newspaper listings. The Galveston Daily News and the Houston Daily Post have long lists of the dead with up to 4,900 names. Some families died and were never identified. A complete list of the victims will never be known.

The Rosenberg Library has compiled a "master list" of names taken from these printed lists of victims. These names were checked against the 1899-1900 Galveston city directory to confirm spellings and residences. List of Recorded Deaths

# 8 How strong were the winds?

Wind speeds measured as high as 100 mph before the wind gauge blew away. Isaac Cline, chief local forecaster, in his report to the U.S. Weather Service, reported estimated winds up to 120 mph which is considered the accepted wind speed. A copy of his report to the United States Weather Bureau as it appears in our Subject File is found here in the Cline report.

This hurricane could be classified as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane by today's standards. According to the National Weather Service web site for storm classifications, the 1900 Stormwind speed places it as a Category 3. However, the storm surge, being 15 feet, places it as a Category 4. Check out the National Weather Service chart for a guide.

#9 Did Galveston residents have any warning?

Galveston newspapers reported a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, but it was not expected to land in Galveston. Obviously, the reports were not as up-to-the-minute as they are today.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Daily Journal for September 1900, Isaac Cline received the order to hoist the storm warning flag at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, September 7th; however, many people did not expect the storm to be as severe as it was. Many residents who had survived the storm in 1886, which was only a mild tropical storm, believed that it would not be worse than before.

According to Isaac Cline's autobiography, Storms, Floods and Sunshine, published in 1945, the Weather Bureau office received many phone calls and visitors asking about the possibility of a storm. Cline also stated that while taking measurements of the waves, he alerted many people vacationing in Galveston to leave the island or seek shelter on higher ground.

# 10 What happened to the bodies?

On the morning of Sunday, September 9, some bodies were buried where they were found in unmarked graves. Others were brought by wagons to various cotton warehouses on the Strand, which were used as temporary morgues. There people attempted to identify the bodies.

On Monday, September 10, over 700 bodies were loaded onto barges where they were taken out to sea, weighted, and dropped overboard. The bodies eventually washed back on the beach.

By Tuesday afternoon, September 11, with the number of bodies growing astronomically, the Central Relief Committee decided to burn them in funeral pyres with the wreckage. All attempts of formal identification ended; however, jewelry and other personal items removed from the bodies were made available for later identification.

#11 I have an original letter which mentions or describes the 1900 Storm. What can I do with it?

We encourage you to donate any original items concerning the 1900 Storm to the Rosenberg Library, Galveston & Texas History Center. Our staff is professionally trained to preserve and house the items in our fireproof vault. You, your family, and any other scholars researching the 1900 Storm are most welcome to view them in our reading room during our business hours, Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you have photographs, letters, sheet music or any other original items related to the 1900 Storm, and wish to donate it to the library, please contact:

Rosenberg Library, 4th Floor
2310 Sealy Avenue
Galveston, Texas 77550

409-763-8854 ext. 117.

Our collection relies solely on donations from the public.

#12 What did Galveston do to protect itself from future storms?

From 1902-10 Galveston experienced one of the greatest engineering feats of the century. From 1902-04 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a large seawall to protect Galveston from "overflows" of the Gulf. Reaching 17 feet high, it surrounded the city from 6th Street to 39th Street. The federal government paid to have the wall extended to 45th Street so it would also protect Fort Crockett. In later years the seawall was lengthened to 61st Street and then to its present ending at 103rd Street.
After completion of the seawall, engineers then raised the entire city. This involved raising each home on jacks or stilts and then pumping wet sand underneath until the ground was level with the raised structure. Some homes were raised as much as 17 feet, the same height as the seawall. The grade sloped towards Galveston Bay at a 2 percent decline, so that the businesses on the Strand and the piers were not raised.

The seawall and grade raising were tested in 1915 when another hurricane, equal to or more powerful than the 1900 Storm struck Galveston. While the seawall was battered and damaged, the loss of life and loss of property was minimal compared with the devastation caused in 1900.

If you find omissions or individuals listed who can be verified to have survived the storm, please send us an email including the name of the individual, how he or she is listed in this index, and with copies of any documentation, you have demonstrating your position to the archivist.

Storm FAQs