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Today, people tend to think of hurricanes as horrible natural disasters. And, there’s no denying the damage they cause and the lives they can destroy. But, they also have had a huge impact on our country’s formation and course of history.
Even in the 16th and 17th centuries, strong storms and hurricanes caused problems like capsizing ships and rerouting settlers. As we know it, our country could be vastly different if it weren’t for these storms taking place.
During the Victorian era, hurricanes changed the course of agriculture and slave labor in America. One major hurricane in 1893 was the most damaging to ever strike South Carolina and the second most deadly in the U.S.
Hurricanes might not be shaping our history as much these days, but they still get a lot of well-deserved attention. So, from Galveston to Katrina, and every major storm in-between, how have hurricane responses changed since the Victorian era?
The largest and most devastating hurricane throughout the Victorian era was undoubtedly Galveston. In fact, it remains the worst hurricane in U.S. history, often referred to as The Great Storm of 1900.
Some of the staggering statistics to come from this catastrophic event are still difficult to believe, including:
- Over 6,000 deaths
- $35.4 million in damage costs (over $1 billion today)
- 15-foot storm surges that flooded the city
One interesting fact about this hurricane is that a seawall was supposed to be built before 1900 to protect the city. But, a respected meteorologist at the time dismissed the idea by saying the city could never be hit by a powerful enough hurricane to do any damage. Had that wall been built, Galveston may not have seen as much damage or flooding.
The biggest problem with this hurricane and other storms in the Victorian era was that people were ill-prepared. The U.S. Weather Bureau (now known as the National Weather Service) was only 10 years old when the Galveston hurricane hit, and its communication policies were lacking. They weren’t able to adequately give people time to evacuate or prepare in any way. Efforts were focused more on cleaning up after the disaster than preparing for before the storm made landfall.
So many advancements have been made over the years to better equip those living in hurricane-heavy areas. Some of the old Victorian homes that have survived can be staged with their original charm, but given upgrades to help them withstand strong winds and rain. More modern houses in those areas are often built with more structural integrity, including features like:
- Concrete fortification
- Steel framework
- Quick-drying construction materials
- Square or hexagonal roofs that can withstand strong winds
Many homes in hurricane-affected areas also have hurricane windows, which were originally developed in the 1930s. Hurricane windows are strong and durable, meant to withstand harsh winds better than any traditional window. So, you won’t return home to an exposed house and shattered glass everywhere. You’ll also often see people boarding up their windows before a hurricane hits. That isn’t always necessary with hurricane windows. But, it can provide greater peace of mind if you’re going to be gone from your house for a while.
The most important change over the years is the use of technology. Obviously, it has come a long way since the 1800s-1900s. But, it’s being used to give people plenty of time to get to safety and take care of their homes. Hurricanes will always be devastating. But, the more you know about them ahead of time, the safer you can be.
Studies have shown that the hurricanes of today are more intense than those in the Victorian era. A lot of this has to do with changing weather patterns, and even climate change. But, the general patterns and timeframes of hurricanes have remained the same. Depending on where you live in the country, you know there is a “hurricane season”, from June to November every year.
Thanks to modern technology, we can now better detect hurricanes long before they reach landfall. That gives people in the path of the storm an opportunity to evacuate or prepare their homes.
Still, hurricanes are nothing to take lightly today. We might have better technology and more solutions to keep our homes safe. But, hurricanes are still deadly. Galveston remains the worst in U.S. history. Maria and Katrina aren’t far behind, both occurring in the 2000s and claiming more than 2,000 and 1,000 lives, respectively.
Hurricane season will continue to come to the U.S. every year, leaving destruction in its path. While you can’t prevent it, you can be grateful for the ways you can protect yourself and your home now that simply weren’t available during the Victorian era.