A wetter pattern and remembering our country’s deadliest natural disaster

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Main Threats

No major threats in sight.

Summary

We should see showers and storms increase in coverage and intensity as we go through our Saturday. Most of the activity will come later in the day and many of us may get in a drier Saturday before the heavier rains move in for Sunday.

A slow-moving cold front has been crawling in our direction for the past week. It will finally get close enough Saturday evening to really kick up our rain chances. These heightened rain chances will be with us right on into next week.

Tropics

We continue to monitor Florence today. The storm continues to show a disturbing trend in model data that shows a powerful, major hurricane threatening the East Coast of the U.S. the middle of next week. Stay tuned.

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Records

The punishing heat wave of 1925 continues. The temperature at Nashville tops out at 100 degrees, making this the sixth of seven consecutive days of triple-digit high temperatures. The morning low for Nashville on this day was 80 degrees, which is the warmest overnight low on record for the city. I’m telling ya, folks, this was a punishing heat wave for Tennessee and a good portion of the country!

Speaking of punishing weather….

Today is a somber day for Texas, as well as for our nation. It was on this day in 1900 that our country experienced the deadliest natural disaster in our history. This was the day Galveston, Texas was hit by a powerful hurricane that carried with it a devastating storm surge. That’s right, a hurricane is responsible for our nation’s deadliest natural disaster.

Before I go further into this, let me explain something. A lot of folks don’t understand what storm surge is. This always becomes apparent when hurricanes make landfall and folks don’t evacuate the coast like they should. The storm surge is the worst part of any hurricane. This is a wall of water that comes inland, destroying nearly everything in its path. The intensity of the hurricane generally determines the size of the storm surge. Other factors include the shape of the coastline, the terrain of the land near the coastline, and slope of the coastline into the ocean. The physical size of the hurricane plays a big role, too.

As a hurricane moves inland, the winds of the hurricane force water inland.  Storm surge is generally around 4 feet with a category one hurricane, increasing to 18 feet with a category five. We’ve seen some category five hurricanes come ashore with storm surges approaching 30 feet.

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This wall of water rushes inland as the storm makes landfall. This is when the greatest loss of life usually occurs. There’s just no other force as destructive as water. The storm surge is on the side of the hurricane with onshore winds. The winds on the backside of the storm push water away from the shore.

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During the Galveston hurricane of 1900 (this was before we started naming storms), the storm surge was as high as 15 feet.  That’s typical of the surge associated with a category 4 storm, with winds of 135-140 mph. Over 3,600 buildings  and 3,000 homes were destroyed in the city. Estimates place the death toll between 6 and 12,000. Many of the bodies were burned in masses afterward to ward off disease and the stench.

Interestingly, the city was a booming town before the hurricane. It was home to over 40,000 people (not too shabby for 1900!), and tourists flocked to the wide beaches that were absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the city was located on an island (Galveston Island) which offered no protection from hurricanes. To make matters worse, the 30-mile long island is only one to to three miles wide and about seven feet above sea level. Remember, I said the storm surge was 15 feet.

This was the days before satellites and weather data was sparse. Folks literally didn’t see this storm coming. Sure, there were subtle indications that something was coming; the water started to rise at the shore, winds kicked up from the northeast, etc. But no one could have known this magnitude of a disaster was lurking in the Gulf. In fact, this storm may have rapidly intensified just before landfall, making it difficult to prepare for even in today’s world.

Galveston never rebuilt. The city was literally relocated to current day Houston. This is one reason why Houston is such a large city today. In fact, Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city, which is unsettling considering the hurricane history of this region (don’t forget Harvey that hit last year).

This storm brought a new focus on hurricane prediction. When the Galveston storm struck, there was a meteorologist on the island. His name was Isaac and he had a hunch something was coming, but he didn’t have enough data to really warn folks. Normally, the sky turns a brick-dust color in this part of the country as hurricanes approach. But, no such sky was seen on this day. Other indicators that a forecaster would look for simply weren’t there or were so subtle one wouldn’t know for sure what to make of it.

Isaac ended up losing several members of his own family to the storm. For those of you familiar with the colleges in our area, he was actually a student for a time at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, TN. This was back when there were no formal meteorology degrees, just courses you could take to become educated in the atmospheric sciences. Hiwassee had such courses in these days.

In the end, Galveston island was raised several feet and a big flood wall was constructed to better protect the island. Both measures, however incredible for these days, have helped and nothing as destructive has been observed here since. Still, folks will never forget the home of the nation’s deadliest disaster, leaving it forever scarred and broken.

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