This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 5, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Dorian! Much talk on radio and television about this destructive monster that came slamming in with September. To the few folks who are older than I, it brings back memories of what is known in hurricane history as the “1935 Labor Day Hurricane,” hitting the Florida Keys with 185 mph winds on September 2, 1935. Like Dorian roaring through the Bahamas, when the 1935 storm slammed into Florida, it was a Category 5. There have been very few Category 5’s in recorded history, though most of us can remember Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds.
Hurricane Patricia in the Eastern Pacific Ocean has, I believe, the record for highest sustained hurricane winds, at 215 mph, not exactly a record anyone wants to boast about. However, most folks who study these things believe that the worst hurricane was the 1900 Galveston storm which caused 8,000 to 12,000 deaths. Our local area histories contain references to the 1900 Monster, — St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis postponing the construction of a church building when they organized in 1900 because of the impending tropical cyclone, and the Big Storm moving the German Methodist church building in East Bernard off its blocks. In these outlying areas, the destruction was minor compared to the horrific devastation on Galveston Island. This Category 4 storm hit Galveston on September 8, 1900.
When you look at the recorded history of hurricanes for the United States, it seems that September is the month most plague with hurricanes. My hasty scan of historical data showed about a dozen hurricanes hitting the U.S. in September.
It’s uncanny that Christopher Columbus, who didn’t even know the Americas existed, and had no records of their hurricane season, arrived in the West Indies in late October of 1492, having left Portugal in August, 1492, and having had very few difficulties regarding stormy weather. As he continued his exploration in 1493, he encountered very few tropical systems. Luckily, he missed the hurricane season. But during his second voyage in 1494, he experienced what is probably the first tropical cyclone (hurricane) in recorded history, having to secure his ships in a protected cove where they still took a battering.
Having lived in or near Lee County, Texas, until 1961, and thus having lived a sheltered existence, I did not actually know what a hurricane was until that year. Accepting a new teaching job on the Gulf Coast, I moved into an apartment about fifteen miles from Surfside Beach, when Hurricane Carla slammed into Port O’Connor at 174 mph on September 11. Prior to Carla’s landfall decision, I was told to evacuate immediately, and, believe me I was in my car heading toward Lee County as fast as that old Pontiac would fly! One problem. Carla followed me. It roared right through Giddings, still at 90 miles per hour. Not feeling totally secure inside my parents’ home, I looked out the window and saw the trees in the yard bending in the wind, almost at 90 degree angles. Since it had made landfall, Carla had spawned 26 tornados.
I may have felt insecure and uneasy in Giddings during Carla, but no trees fell down, no limbs broke off, and no damage occurred to our home. Had I not evacuated, the scenario would have been devastatingly worse, as I found out when I returned to the Coast. Pundits were pointing out that there were only 34 deaths during Carla, a low number which they said was due to pre-storm evacuation.
As I am writing this column, Dorian is stalled over the Bahamas, down from a Category 5 to a Category 4 Hurricane, but still devastating the islands with 150 mph winds and intense rainfall (residents have had to endure this constantly for about 24 hours now). The reports coming from there are heart-breaking. At this point, no one is sure where Dorian will continue to go, most likely up the East Coast, clobbering Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Folks still remember how Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas in 2018. We continue to pray for God’s protection and deliverance.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.