Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Worst Natural Disaster in U.S. History

Pulling bodies from the debris
The worst natural disaster ever to occur in the United States in terms of loss of life hit Galveston Island in Texas on September 8, 1900. It was a tropical storm that gained enough strength over the Gulf of Mexico to become a Category 4 hurricane by the time it made landfall in Texas. The city of Galveston, Texas, which lies on the eastern end of Galveston Island, was the hardest hit by this devastating storm and it was hit hard indeed.

On September 3rd and 4th of 1900, a tropical storm first approached and then moved over the island nation of Cuba. By September 6th, the storm was moving northwest of Key West, Florida. The storm then moved out over the Gulf of Mexico in a northeasterly direction, and it was assumed that it would continue this way. However, as the storm gained strength, it took a westerly path. This new direction put Galveston, which had a population of 37,000 at the time, directly in the way of the storm.

It was unclear to meteorologists whether the storm would hit Galveston. The weather on the island was not entirely congruent with what would be expected if a hurricane were approaching. Nevertheless, meteorologist Isaac M. Cline, the man in charge of the Galveston Weather Station at the time, felt that a warning should be issued in spite of the lack of telltale signs, and he ordered it. He noticed some ominous weather conditions, such as a particularly high tide on the evening of the 7th. He chose to keep an eye on such things and report them to the mainland as they occurred.

By the early morning of September 8th, the tidewater reached the lower portions of Galveston. There were also abnormally high and frequent swells. It began to rain lightly around 9:00 a.m. and was raining heavily by 12:00 p.m. It was windy the entire day, but winds didn’t reach hurricane speeds in Galveston until around 5:00 p.m. The winds were last recorded at the weather station at about 6:00 p.m. at around 100 miles an hour. It is estimated that they reached speeds of 130-140 mph before the storm passed.

That evening a huge storm surge bombarded the city and flooded the streets. All the residents could do was try to get to higher ground before they were swept away or battered with debris. Unfortunately, the highest point in the city at the time was only roughly 8-7 feet above sea level. The storm surge reached a height of 15.7 feet. A lot of people lost their lives in the struggle to get above the seawater that had invaded their city.

The aftermath of the Great Storm of 1900 was horrifying by all accounts. Debris and dead bodies were strewn about as survivors picked their way through the streets. They themselves were battered and bruised and likely trying to find missing loved ones. Estimates for lives lost range from 6,000 to 12,000, but the general consensus is that between 6,000 and 8,000 people died that day. More than 3,500 homes were destroyed and there was around 20 million dollars worth of damage done. That would be roughly 700 million dollars today.

There were so many dead bodies that plans had to be hatched for their disposal immediately. One such plan involved removing the dead by barge and dumping them into the gulf. This was done and to the horror of those working to dispose of them, many of the bodies were brought back to the island on currents. This left residents with no other option than to burn or bury the bodies right where they lie.

It must have been hard for the residents of Galveston in the aftermath of the storm, but something needed to be done so that another similar tragedy could be avoided in the future. The people banded together and not only rebuilt their city, but raised it and its infrastructure up to eight feet in some places. On top of that, a sea wall was built to protect the city from storm surges, but it only protects parts of the city, leaving the rest of the island vulnerable. The wall still stands today.


Cline, Isaac M., Special Reports of the Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900, retrieved 10/28/09,

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, retrieved 10/28/09,

Hurricane History, Galveston 1900, retrieved 10/28/09,

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

1974's Super Tornado Outbreak

The Xenia Tornado
The 1974 Tornado Outbreak, or the Super Tornado Outbreak, was a widespread outbreak of tornadoes in the United States and Canada. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it was the worst outbreak of tornadoes in United States history. The damage, number of tornadoes and the length of all the tornadoes paths of destruction combined give it this distinction. Surprisingly, the 1925 Tri-State Tornado was more than twice as deadly, though nowhere near as widespread.

The forecast on April 2, 1974 called for severe thunderstorms–a problem, but not indicative of what was to come. On April 3, the outbreak began. The worst of it took place between 2 and 10 pm, but the storms continued until April 4. One hundred forty-eight tornadoes occurred in 13 states and Canada during this short period.

South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Michigan and Kentucky were affected.  Six of the tornadoes were a five on the Fujita scale. More than 20 were rated four and more than 30 were rated three. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Alabama were hit with the F5s.

The 1974 Tornado Outbreak carved more than 2,500 miles of destruction. One hundred eighteen tornadoes had destruction paths that measured a mile or more. Three hundred thirty people died and more than 5,000 were injured.

The year before the outbreak was also a very active year for tornadoes. There were roughly 1,100 in all. Nonetheless, no outbreak took place that year that can compare to 1974 and none have since. Though, judging by the April tornadoes of 2011, it is not out of the question. It is quite possible that a similar or worse outbreak will occur in the United States, which is the country most susceptible to tornadoes on Earth.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Interesting Facts About Tornadoes

F5 in Manitoba by
Tornadoes are dangerous, violent and unpredictable storms. Even the weakest of them can harm people and cause property damage. Scientists measure them on the Fujita Scale. Those in the middle of the Fujita Scale–F3s–are as strong as or even stronger than Category 5 hurricanes in terms of wind speed. They have been portrayed in fiction as magical cyclones that can whisk you away to far off lands and as interesting funnels that harmlessly move things about. The reality is far more frightening, though no less interesting.

Tornadoes are Most Common in the United States

While not constricted to the United States, tornadoes most often occur in the spring and fall months in the U.S. An average of 800 to 1,000 reported tornadoes occur in the United States annually. They cause an average of 70 to 80 deaths in the country and more than 1,000 injuries–much more some years. Property damage from tornadoes can be in the billions in a single year.

Tornadoes Can Move and Spin Very Fast

Tornadoes are columns of air that appear during thunderstorms, however small. The columns spin or rotate at varying speeds from 400 miles per hour to more than 300 miles per hour. Tornadoes can travel at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, making them very difficult to outrun, even in a vehicle. They are also quite unpredictable, which lends to the danger they present.

The Paths of Tornadoes Can be Terrifyingly Wide and Long

The width of a tornado can be as much as a mile and wipe out whole neighborhoods as it goes along. Once it touches down, a tornado can cut a path 50 miles long before dissipating. Tornadoes like these are the exception rather than the rule, but it is best to stay out of the way of any tornado.

Not All Tornadoes Form Noticeable Funnels

It is a mistake to be on the lookout for noticeable funnels during thunderstorms, despite them being a tornado's most noteworthy characteristic. Tornadoes are, by nature, invisible. Only when a tornado sucks in moisture, dirt or debris does it become visible. Even then, rain or dark clouds may hinder a person's view of the tornado.

Tornadoes Can Last More than the Usual Few Minutes and They Can Happen at Any Time

Tornadoes are more common in spring and summer, as mentioned above. However, they can happen at any time of year. Furthermore, they are more common in the afternoon, but that does not mean they cannot happen at night or in the morning. Once they get started, they can last anywhere from a brief moment to an hour.

It is Impossible to Give Significant Warning for a Tornado

Unlike other weather events, it is not possible to give more than a few minutes of warning for a tornado. Tornadoes are much like tsunamis in that the situation must be read properly in order for people to predict the outcome. Weather experts can put out tornado watches hours in advance when they see a storm that may produce tornadoes. However, they cannot give a tornado advisory more than an average 13 minutes in advance at this time. That is why it is essential to listen carefully to the weather when there is a tornado watch.

When it comes to tornadoes, preparing for the unexpected is the only safeguard. Even homes that are built to withstand tornadoes can be leveled in a strong one. It is important to know where to take shelter in the event of a tornado and to pay attention when there are thunderstorms, especially if you are east of the Rockies in the United States.


Tornadoes, retrieved 6/5/11,

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Brennender Berg-Germany's "Burning Mountain"

Guide sign at Brennender Berg
Brennender Berg, or Burning Mountain, is a coal fire that tourists can visit in Saarland, Germany. Just park up at the Dudweiler Cemetery and walk about 15 minutes into the woods to find a rocky gorge where you can experience some of the effects of this centuries-old coal fire.

Brennender Berg ignited in 1688. No one is quite sure how. There are stories that a shepherd lit a tree on fire and that ignited the coal. It's also possible that the fire started on its own–a common enough occurrence. Whatever the case, it burned dramatically for a long time. Tourists through the centuries would come up to see burning red rocks and smoke emitting from crevices. They also noted the smell of sulfur.

Today, Brennender Berg has quieted down. You can still seek the rocky gorge, under which it burns, and feel the warmth of the rocks, but smoke is rare and the smell has subsided. There is an information sign at the site, but it's in German. Do your research before you go.