katrina vs. Rita x Galveston

When it comes to hurricanes, knowledge is power. The more we know about a storm, the better we can prepare for the onslaught. But where does all the data come from, and what how has forecasting technology changed since the 1900's?

As far as the technology is concerned, back in those days all we really had were weather balloons. The balloons were sent up into the atmosphere at a few locations, and forecasters used that info to estimate where storm systems were and to estimate steering currents in the upper atmosphere that would guide hurricanes.

The only way it would really be accurate is if the pattern stayed the same for a few days.

In the event of the 1900 storm, the pattern changed. An area of high pressure developed and blocked the storm from moving the way it was originally going. Today, we have computer models that look at the current upper air pattern and they have millions of formulas to extrapolate how the atmosphere will look in the days ahead, including cyclogenesis and anti-cyclogenesis equations (formation of low pressure and high pressure systems, respectively)

In other words, back then, we only had limited current information to look at and if the pattern changed, then the track of the hurricane would change. Now we have computer models that can predict changes in the pattern, thus they are much more accurate in predicting future hurricane tracks.

We also have come a long way with satellite imagery. We can tell now when a storm forms, how strong it is and we do not have to wait until it hits land, or some random ship out at sea happens to run into it.

Reconnaissance aircraft is also used, the planes can fly into a storm and give us a better idea of the conditions in and around the storm at all layers of the atmosphere.

  • Galveston Hurricane 1900
  • Very similar track to Rita thus far.
  • More than 8,000 people killed
  • 20 foot tides
  • Category 4 at Texas landfall
  • Winds sustained at 135mph
  • Pressure 964mb
  • One of the worst disasters in American history
  • 12 city blocks were wiped away
  • There were so many dead bodies, that it was impossible to have burial.The bodies were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, only to float back to the shore. They were then cremated.
  • The storm moved through the Caribbean several days before and produced 10 inches of rain in Santiago , Cuba on September 3.
  • After examining charts of atmospheric conditions and past hurricanes, forecasters believed that the storm would turn north over Florida and eventually more northeast and skim up the east coast of the U.S.
  • Area of high pressure strengthening to the northeast of the storm blocked it from turning north and caused it to move into the Gulf of Mexico .
  • There were storm warnings out. Most people, including weather forecasters, did not think it would be a significant impact on Galveston .
  • Forecasters were unaware, because of no satellite imagery or aircraft to investigate storms over water, that the storm had intensified significantly over the Gulf and had become a major hurricane.
  • Storm warnings were issued along the coast but in anticipation of a much weaker storm.
  • Made landfall very near Galveston , TX on September 8.


  • Pressure at landfall about 915mb
  • Winds at landfall 150mph