The Galveston Hurricane
The 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston showed that the city was vulnerable to storms. At the time, it was the wealthiest city in Texas and the third richest in the country; when it was over, few buildings remained and a fifth of its population was dead. When the hurricane hit, weather bureau forecasters mistakenly thought it would go out to sea. But by the time the storm made landfall, bridges to the mainland were destroyed and islanders’ escape was impossible. The wind speed was 135 miles per hour, equivalent to a Category 4 storm. Water swept away buildings as far as six blocks inland, and the rest of the town was destroyed. Between 6,000 and 10,000 people died. The hurricane remains America’s deadliest weather disaster. Raising the city center covered many graves, and genealogists will find gaps in church and immigration records. Property losses totaled $28 to $30 million ($700 million today), and Houston replaced Galveston as the major commercial center.
Mississippi River Flood
The Mississippi River flooded in 1927, killing hundreds of people and destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property. The flood was one of the worst in U.S. history. It occurred when weeks of heavy rain caused the river to rise above the levees protecting many communities along its banks. The levee near Mounds Ferry broke on April 21; it was one of several breaks along the Mississippi that day. Tree branches and buildings were washed away. Many structures were heavily damaged or destroyed in the entire Mississippi Delta area. More than 10,000 refugees crowded onto the 8-foot-wide Greenville levee. Most of these refugees were black sharecroppers, who feared losing their jobs if they left their plantations to seek aid. The American Red Cross provided aid to the victims of the flood, but they gave food and other provisions to black people in smaller amounts than they gave to white people. They also only allowed 33 white women and children to board evacuation barges. African Americans were forced to work as cleanup workers by armed white town officials, and Presidential hopeful Herbert Hoover suppressed reports of refugee camp abuses. The floods killed 1,000 and left a million homeless. Within a year, half the Delta’s black population had gone.
In August 2005, the southern United States was hit by Hurricane Katrina—one of the strongest hurricanes in that region in recorded history. It started as a tropical storm over the Bahamas but by the time it reached Louisiana, winds of more than 100 miles per hour (161km/h) pummelled New Orleans, causing damage to property and catastrophic flooding. It led to at least 1,833 deaths and displaced more than 400,000 residents.
California wildfires, 2018
On the morning of November 8, 2018, a small fire was reported beneath Pacific Gas and Electric power lines near the Poe Dam in Butte County, California. Shortly thereafter, flames began to consume the town of Paradise. Winds up to 75 miles per hour pushed the fire forward at a rate of 80 football fields per minute. It burned 14,000 homes and killed 103 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in California history. Some residents did not hear the evacuation alerts, there was poor coordination during the crisis, and many died of smoke inhalation as they tried to flee. Officials said the blaze consumed 153,336 acres. Flames reawakened discussions about how to prepare for fires in areas prone to blazes, and they raised concerns about how climate change and rising temperatures could lead to more intense fires and lengthen the state’s fire season. The 2018 wildfire season was the largest on record, until it was overtaken by the 2020 and 2021 wildfire seasons.
Tornadoes are a rare but devastating occurrence that can appear every year around the world. When they do make an appearance, they cause massive destruction to any town in their path. The town of Pilger in Nebraska experienced firsthand what tornadoes are capable of when twin tornadoes struck in quick succession. A twin tornado hit the town on June 16th 2014, killing one child and injuring 20 others. While experts disagree about the formation of twin tornadoes, most agree on the need for shelter in the event of such a storm. When a tornado is wrapped with cold damp air, it can spawn a new tornado. This usually happens when there’s a lot of energy present in the original storm. Some experts believe that multiple-vortex storm systems or even separate super cells are to blame for twin tornadoes. Whichever it may be, all experts agree that twin tornadoes are deadly and a place of shelter is imperative in the event of this phenomenon.
In October 2018, Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 5 storm, the most intense to hit the region on record. The storm surge reached up to 14 feet and destroyed at least 93% of buildings in Mexico Beach, Florida. At least 45,000 structures were damaged in Bay County alone. More than a year after Hurricane Michael’s landfall, Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told weather.com the town still had no grocery store, bank or gas station open. The storm caused over $1 billion in damage in southeast Alabama and $4.7 billion in southwest and central Georgia. In Georgia, 99% of homes were damaged in Donaldsonville and 3,000 residential structures were damaged in Albany.
Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 hurricane in September 2017, had the most severe, long-lasting impacts of any weather event of the decade. The exact death toll is still unknown, but a George Washington University study estimates 2,975 people died in the disaster while Harvard researchers estimate 4,645 people perished. According to the National Hurricane Center’s report, the storm damaged or destroyed more than 300,000 homes. Eighty percent of Puerto Rico’s power poles and all transmission lines were downed by Maria, knocking out power to much of the island for months. Hundreds of landslides triggered by the flood wiped out countless trees, roads, bridges and homes across the island. Roads were washed out or blocked by fallen trees, isolating houses from their neighborhoods. The Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works reports that many roads are still in poor condition. It is estimated that $23 billion is needed over 10 years for improvements to bridges, ports, roads and power lines.
Australian wildfires, 2020
In the first six weeks of 2020, Australia experienced its worst-ever bushfire season. The fires were the result of exceptionally dry conditions following the hottest year on record which had left soil and fuels exceptionally dry. Fires burned through more than 10 million hectares, killed at least 28 people, wiped out entire communities, took the homes of thousands of families, and left millions of people affected by a hazardous smoke haze. More than a billion native animals were killed and some species and ecosystems may never recover. The wildfires were declared as one of the “worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”
On July 19, 2022, the UK registered its highest temperature ever recorded. An eye watering 104.5°F was recorded at Coningsby, Lincolnshire in Eastern England, as the rest of the country sweltered in temperatures of 100°F and above. Public transport was suspended; schools were closed; and people were warned to stay indoors. Extremely dry conditions and sweltering temperatures caused a rash of wildfires to spread throughout London and its suburbs. Forty-one homes were destroyed in the Wennington fire, and firefighters battled to contain the inferno while London Fire Brigade declared a major emergency and cited it as its busiest day since the Second World War.
In autumn 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated Cuba before heading to the US, where it destroyed states such as Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. After wreaking havoc in Florida—where floodwaters and strong winds of up to 150 miles per hour (241km/h) left almost one hundred dead and millions without power—the storm caused destruction along the Atlantic Coast. Popular tourist attractions such as Fort Myers Beach were completely destroyed by the hurricane, leading Senator Marco Rubio to state: “Fort Myers Beach no longer exists.”