Table Of Contents:
The weatherman who cost 12000 lives
Isaac Cline was chief of the U.S. Weather Service bureau in Galveston Texas from 1889 to 1901.
Up until 1900, Isaac Cline had established himself as a reliable weather forcaster and was behind the first flood warnings in the area which helped save many people and property, from this, his opinion was upheld and highly respected.
In 1892, Isaac’s younger brother, Joseph Cline, also began working with him as a meteorologist.
Around this time Isaac wrote an article in the local newspaper in which he gave his official opinion that the idea of a hurricane ever doing any serious damage to Galveston was “a crazy idea” and “It would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which could materially injure the city.”
Since as far back as 1881 local people had been extremely worried about the effect a big storm could have on Galveston, especially after witnessing some of the big storms of nearby areas, and the people of Galveston wanted a sea wall to be built to be protected against the deadliest hurricanes.
Local officials decided against building the wall mainly citing Isaac Cline’s official statement as the reasoning behind their decision and taking into account that there had never previously been a Galveston hurricane of note.
Nine years later, on the night of sept 8th1900, the biggest and most deadliest hurricane in history hit the island, (the storm was to become known as the “1900 Galveston Hurricane“) reducing 66% of the town to splinter-wood and killing around 12,000 people, (various sources cite 6,000, 10,000, 12000 or 14000 killed, the general consensus seems to be that the Galveston hurricane had killed around 12,000 people).
The estimated 145 mph Galveston hurricane brought with it 15 foot tidal waves, devastating everything in its path and drowning thousands of residents.
Tragically, among those deaths was Isaac Cline’s pregnant wife. Two of his three daughters survived only because Cline’s brother Joseph, managed to save them. Isaac himself saved the third and nearly drowned himself in the process.
By sept 11th there were food riots and town officials were begging the government for help with supplies and arms, see the telegram below.
About a year later, Cline took his three daughters to New Orleans, where he was put in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau Station and official weather forecaster for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Cline wrote many papers and some books, the most notable being “Tropical Cyclones” a textbook about the devastating weather systems that took his wife’s life. He also wrote his memoirs in 1945 entitled “Storms, floods and sunshine”
In his memoirs Cline claimed to have run up and down the beach at Galveston trying to warn people of the impending hurricane, but there appears to be no eye witnesses or records of these events.
You can read his full report of the horrors of that night at NOAA History page.
Despite the cost, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 left an important legacy. It led to new and better methods of predicting the most deadliest hurricanes and storms.
A sea wall was eventually built and when the next big hurricane hit in 1915 it held back the water and saved many people from drowning.
Isaac Cline retired from the Weather Bureau in 1935. He remained in New Orleans, and pursued his lifetime interest in art. You can still buy a copy of his art book Art and artists in New Orleans during the last century on Amazon.
Isaac Monroe Cline (b.October 13, 1861 – d. August 3, 1955), aged 93.
In 2008 Lars Erkison wrote an authoritative and highly regarded book on Isaac Cline and the Galveston storm called “Isaac’s Storm”
I recall a vaguely similar story from the UK. In October 1987, BBC weather forcaster, Michael Fish, insisted there was no chance of a hurricane the UK.
Just hours later a 115mph storm hit, killing 18 people and injuring hundreds more, £2 billion worth of damage to property was done and the storm destroyed 15 million trees. The country came to a standstill for over 24 hours in what the News at Ten called the biggest storm in the UK for 300 years (others said 100 years)
Although it was not Michael’s fault of course, it is a similar story as Isaac’s, just on a smaller scale.
Here is the classic clip of Michael’s mistake, followed by some news reports from the time.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like: Edward Jenner-The Man Who Saved Millions of Lives
Isaac Cline and the Galveston Hurricane, the weatherman who cost 12000 lives (c) 2016 AEEF.Net