You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Manque. The winter had been harsh that year, ice storms and weeks of bitter cold swept the northwestern states from Michigan and the Dakotas down to Nebraska. So when the sun broke through the clouds and the unusually warm temperatures, melted ice and snow on the 12th of January in 1888, people made the most of it. In the Dakotas, women hung out laundry in Nebraska.
Children began their trek home from school in Montana, Idaho and Kansas, farmers enjoyed the break from tending livestock in the frigid cold. Settlers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming ventured into town for supplies and errands. By mid-afternoon, the clouds rolled in dark and heavy, a farmer in South Dakota heard a tremendous roar and thinking the sound had come from a train, kept working. Minutes later, he realized the loud roar had been thunder unusual for winter, the sky grew as dark as a cellar and icy winds tugged at his hat and bit into his skin.
He hadn't dressed warmly enough for the changing temperatures and headed toward the house before he left the fields, though, the snow fell from the sky like it had been dumped from a sack, seeing just a foot in front of him proved difficult. In Nebraska, the winds ripped the roof off of a school house, the 19 year old school teacher, Mindy Friedman, tied her 13 students together with twine and led them to safety at a farmhouse a mile and a half away.
For her heroics, many received a gold medal and over 80 marriage proposals. Another school teacher wasn't as fortunate. Lois Rice and three students were trapped in their tiny schoolhouse when the heat ran out, she attempted to guide the children to her boarding house just 82 yards away. The white out conditions confused them and they lost their sense of direction. No one knows how long they tried to find their way back. Sadly, the children froze to death. And though Lewis survived frostbite, took both of her feet.
As much as 55 inches of snow fell across the plains that day, sustained winds of 45 miles per hour and gusts up to 80 miles per hour created snowdrifts, some reaching upwards of 50 feet covering entire houses. Trains were stopped in their tracks or derailed when they hit snow banks. Telegraph lines snapped, cutting off all communication. Within 24 hours, the temperature had plummeted nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Fargo reported temperatures of 47 degrees below zero. Known as the children's blizzard, due to the time of the day the blizzard hit and the number of children who died as they tried to get home, it killed nearly 250 people.
Many died within feet of their homes, unable to use fence's buildings or other landmarks to help guide them during whiteout conditions. They quickly became lost. Bodies were found days, weeks and even months later. Some had frozen to death, while others had suffocated under massive drifts. Those tasked with the recovery reported that the bodies had been so solidly frozen that they made a metallic sound when touched. Children who had frozen were discovered with their arms wrapped tightly around each other.
As you might imagine, some of the missing were never found. The National Weather Service called the Signal Corps back then had made a grave miscalculation while they knew a storm was coming. That believed that using the words blizzard and whiteout conditions, much less telling residents a dangerous storm might be approaching was alarmist. By the time they realized their error, it was too late. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison moved the meteorological department away from the War Department. The newly formed weather bureau reported directly to the Agriculture Department instead.
Surprisingly, though, nothing else about how the weather was managed actually changed and the results were devastating. I'm joined by Bob. Welcome to American Chateaux. Americans hadn't been the only ones tracking weather over the waters, though, back in 1858 in Havana, Cuba, Father Benito Vinyasa founded the Berlin Observatory, perhaps the most advanced weather station in the world. In Cuba, the stucco homes with their wrought iron balconies and zinc roofs, had been subjected to frequent storms.
Hurricanes were so common that at least once a year, storms even tore the roof off of the observatory. Farther, father venues filled notebook after notebook with drawings and descriptions of clouds. He cross-referenced them with weather instrument readings and made notes from incoming ship captains returning from sea. He also collected, sorted and cross-referenced newspaper clippings. He paid special attention to Sarah Stratus clouds, the tall, gauzy clouds found on the outer fringes of hurricanes, his understanding of storms and cloud formations enabled him to predict hurricanes with uncanny precision.
When he was done with his notebooks, he published newspaper articles in terms that ordinary people would understand. For him, the more informed people were, the better. Of all his notes and teachings, Father Vinas stressed that Sarah Stratus clouds could be one of the best early indicators of large storms still many miles out to sea, giving people time to prepare. Of course, the presence of such clouds alone wasn't proof enough. They also had a particular shape a stretched across the sky and plumes, the bottom of the clouds pointing toward the eye of the encroaching storm.
With this knowledge, the storm's current direction could be determined, this information, along with wind patterns, speed and cloud density, allowed farther than years to build a storm model, effectively tracking its future path and intensity. Before long, a telegraphic network of observers across the Caribbean assisted him in gathering weather reports and cloud formations. The British, French, Danish, Dutch, Dominican, Venezuela and even the American government passed along information directly to father. Vignettes with the additional input has already stellar record for hurricane predictions improved exponentially.
In the United States, Willis Moore took over as director of the U.S. weather bureau in 1895. He wasn't fond of father in years work, nor any other weather forecaster, and decided that in the U.S., at least, there would be changes. For starters, he wanted storm warnings to go directly through him before being sent to local weatherman. Effective immediately, certain words were to be removed and avoided, tornado, cyclone and hurricane, among others, as far as he was concerned, weathermen were over predicting the weather and terrifying the public.
Moore's next change came in the assignment of Colonel Henry Dunwoody to the bureau's Caribbean weather station, Dunwoodie believed that those who claimed the ability to predict the hurricane's path using cloud formations and wind direction might as well use divination instead. At first glance, Moore's choice might seem a bit unusual. That is, until you noticed that the new appointee shared in his dislike of father and those who'd followed in his footsteps. After the changes stateside were in effect, both Dunwoodie and Moore turned their sights on the Cuban weather forecasters.
The two men believed that despite the accuracy, the forecasts were created by backward and hysterical people. The two men appointed a bureau veteran, William Stockmann, to be in charge of the United States weather stations in Cuba. Once there, he not only agreed with his superiors viewpoint on the local people, he took it a step further. He reported back to more and Dunwoodie that the weather forecasters methods of prediction were based on superstition and lacked American Know-How and technology.
He also told them that any data know how the Cubans collected had been stolen from the U.S. observatories that had been hijacking U.S. data for years. Now, if you're thinking this didn't add up, you'd be right. Essentially, he was saying that the Cuban meteorologists who had claimed were uneducated and superstitious had never been right about the weather. But when they were, it had been because they had stolen US data. He also claimed that their lack of understanding and knowledge had succeeded only in whipping the Cuban people into a hysterical frenzy with warnings about monster storms.
The report fed into Moore's beliefs and in August of nineteen hundred, right in the middle of hurricane season, he determined that all communication between the Cuban weatherman and the U.S. must be shut down, seeing that the war department controlled the telegraph lines. That part was easy. Banning communication between the U.S. weather bureau in Havana and the office in New Orleans was another matter, though, to remedy this. He ordered all reports go directly through him in Washington. He would determine what information New Orleans and other coastal cities needed, if any.
His power grab had one small remaining problem, though, the telegraph lines owned by Western Union more didn't have the authority to censor weather data over their lines. However, he did manage to strongly convince them to set all weather related news coming from Cuba to the lowest priority, this would effectively slow the rate of transmission or, as he hoped, force reports to be dropped entirely.
On September 3rd of that year, Father Lorenzo Gangotri, who had succeeded Father Veniños, watched a new disturbing weather system off the Havana coast. The massive storm twirled on its axis, changing speed and direction. Rough seas and wind gusts of 60 miles per hour battered the coast. Though the storm still sat miles offshore, while the center of the storm hadn't yet formed the all telling eye of a hurricane, he kept a close watch. The next day, the storm intensified before making landfall, washing away train tracks and destroying buildings in its wake by the night of September 5th, Sarah Stratus clouds formed over the moon and by dawn, the sky turned red, heading for warmer waters.
The storm changed direction, moving north by northwest. As he'd learned from his predecessor, Father, Gangotri sat down and mapped out the hurricane, predicting the path the Texas Gulf Coast more had cut off every method of warning the people in the U.S. in warm, open water, the already well formed and deadly storm would gain strength. All Father Gangotri could do for the people along the Gulf Coast was watch and pray.
In the early 1980s, U.S. citizens were proud of American technology. They thought their advancement and inventions were unparalleled the world over in such a short time, they'd conquered the land. And now there had been talk of controlling the weather using cannon blasts, chemicals and controlled forest fires. They lived in a time when anything seemed possible. In Galveston, Texas, technology sat front and center. They had electric streetcars and streetlights to telegraph companies and local and long distance telephone lines kept communications with other prestigious towns, open a city of culture.
People enjoyed performances in three concert halls for travelers. There were no less than 20 hotels, including the ultra posh Tremont, with over 200 ocean facing rooms, private baths and their own powerplant. More millionaires resided in Galveston per square mile than Newport, Rhode Island, resulting in enormous and elaborate mansions along Broadway Avenue. At the turn of the century, cities competed amongst each other for wealth and prominence in Texas. Galveston strived to reach the status of Baltimore.
In San Francisco, the New York Herald had already written a piece on Galveston, the New York of the Gulf. Others called it the Queen City of the Gulf. In comparison to other Texas cities, Galveston was small, just a narrow island along the bay, barely nine feet above sea level at its peak and only 209 square miles despite the size. In 1899, it was the biggest cotton port in the country and the third busiest port. Overall, 45 steamship lines provided service from Europe to Texas, one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Almost 38000 people call the small city home by the summer of 1900. On September 5th, the weather report in the Galveston Daily News was short, a tropical disturbance is moving over western Cuba and headed the south Florida coast. The report had come directly from Willis Moore at the D.C. weather bureau the day before. No one worried. An article in the local paper back in 1891 had stated that a hurricane of any significant strength would never make landfall on the island.
On Thursday, September six, people awoke to a beautiful day with clear blue skies that mirrored the Gulf waters at six a.m., the weather bureau's chief observer, Isaac Klein, and his brother and assistant Joseph took their morning readings from the roof of the five storey Levi building. They noted a normal barometric pressure and light winds. The temperature, however, was already a steamy 80 degrees. That summer had been warmer than normal. The air was hot and humid.
You waded through it more than what residents and tourists who ventured out for a swim at night said. The Gulf felt like bath water, giving very little relief from the oppressive heat wave. Two hours after his first weather report, Isaac telegraphed to D.C. asking for an update on the prior day's tropical disturbance spotted over Cuba.
More reply was brief. Not a hurricane. The director assured him that the storm would certainly recur when it reached the Gulf.
According to more, Caribbean storms on a northern trajectory couldn't continue that path and would curve back toward South Florida, though he didn't state how he'd come to such a conclusion, he insisted that the heavy rains and moderate wind force would only affect the ships moored off the Florida Keys. He also predicted that areas up the coast from Norfolk to New England would get rainfall before the storm. Remnants moved off into the Atlantic sometime Friday morning did tell the weather stations in New Orleans that they should put up the red and black storm warning flags to alert ship captains of potentially rougher seas, but issued none for cities further west.
At 159 p.m., more telegraphed East Coast cities like Savannah and Charleston that Cuba had experienced heavy rain and that the tropical disturbance had moved toward Florida, as he had predicted. Later in the evening, Isaac and Joseph took the last reading of the day 90 degrees, which was hotter than usual for the season and especially for the time of day. The wind was coming out of the north and the barometric pressure had dropped.
The clouds began to drop the coastline after sending off the report back to Washington. Isaac returned to his house on King Street, where he lived with his pregnant wife, four children and his brother. On Friday morning, September 7th, Isaac knew something was wrong, though the reports from D.C. insisted the storm wasn't heading their way. The rough surf and the strong winds at least convinced more that Galveston should raise storm warning flags for the steamships. Isaac went about his day of readings without any idea that Moore was withholding information.
The East Coast weatherman had given Washington some fairly surprising reports the storm had been told would hit them, never arrived. Key West had experienced strong winds, but not much more. And central Florida never got the storm. Moore had predicted either. Isaac wasn't privy to the reports coming from East Coast cities. He couldn't have known that Savannah and Charleston reported clear skies and mild weather. He assumed the torrential rains Moore said would hit the coast had already happened.
When the telegram arrived that morning, it never mentioned what the Washington bureau had already concluded, the storm that was supposed to be skirting up the East Coast was actually in the Gulf. Friday afternoon, the phones and Isaac's third floor office rang almost constantly, ship captains, the harbormaster and businessmen stopped by with concerns about the high swells of water crashing on shore. The waves had turned an angry green in the sky, a brooding shade of grey. Strong winds whipped the storm warning flags.
Concerned Isaac polygraphed more, who insisted that while he might have been wrong about the storm's path, it was not a hurricane. Throughout the day, Isaac and Joseph fended off worried citizens and phone calls every few hours, they took more readings from the rooftop. DC had said they could expect some wind and heavy rains that evening. Nothing unusual. Isaac determined summer storms flooded streets on occasion. By nightfall, the temperature dropped, giving much needed relief from the oppressive heat.
The last weather report Isaac received showed the storm southwest of New Orleans and moving due west again, not a hurricane. The Washington bureau assured him. At midnight, Isaac created a map charting the storm's course. He concluded that the storm would make a direct hit on Galveston that survived direct hits from severe storms. Before, he thought. Despite his misgivings, he decided that Washington knew the storm better than he did. He left for home and a few hours sleep.
But it was the brief calm before the storm. At 4:00 in the morning, Isaac woke his wife, heavily pregnant with their fifth child, slept beside him, the sound of the house, a sturdy home sitting on stilts ground and creaked with the ever increasing wind outside. Feeling uneasy. He got up dressed and headed downstairs. Joseph was also awake. They stood on the balcony looking over the slate shingle rooftops, each taking in the wind, which had become almost chilly.
I have the sense of impending doom, Joseph said. Although he couldn't quite figure out why Isaac did to. He went to the weather station early, first heading down by the bay and then along the beach, warning residents that they might see heavy flooding and to seek shelter. Isaac also suggested that merchants should remove items from the floors of their shops just in case. Meanwhile, Joseph took the map his brother had drawn to the closest Western Union office, the clerk shook his head.
Lines are down. He slogged through the flooded streets to the telegraph office only to find that their lines were also down. He remembered the phone at the office. While he couldn't send the drawing, he could at least make a call. Still soggy from the floods, Joseph rang the operator and asked for a connection to Houston. She refused, stating that there were too many other calls ahead of him. Eventually, after speaking with the manager and convincing him of the emergency, the operator put the call through.
Throughout the morning, the brothers repeated more as weather reports of heavy rains and strong winds to worried citizens, telling them not to worry, that Washington was assuring them that the following day would be clear and sunny. By three, the flooding had become the worst anyone had ever seen. Isaac made another call to the Houston Western Union requesting that they forward the report directly to Moore in D.C., he stated that the local telegraph lines were still down, the Gulf was rising, and that most of the streets were underwater.
The barometric pressure had dropped below twenty nine inches. He wouldn't be able to send another report anytime soon. The people of Galveston were on their own. By six thirty that evening, Isaac waded through waist deep water to get to his house. He walked in to see 40 people had gathered for shelter from the rising waters.
At seven p.m., Isaac stood at the front door watching debris begin to fly through the air. The water, now 10 feet above the ground, suddenly swelled to 15 feet within mere seconds. Debris began to pile up in the water. At eight pm, houses that had washed away from their foundations slammed into the stilts, securing his home inside, people huddled together, terrified slate roofs designed to handle rougher winds sailed through the air outside. Joseph suggested they leave or try to evacuate while they still could, Isaac said they should stay.
It was too late to evacuate and the debris would surely kill them. A half hour later, the Klein residents could no longer withstand the battering ram of houses against the stilts. The stilts broke, plummeting the house into the raging water, tearing the home apart. Nearly 20 people, including Isaac's pregnant wife, were swept under water and carried away in what seemed a fraction of a second. The water pulled Isaac under as well, though he clung tightly to his eldest child.
Joseph managed to grab Isaac's other three children and they struggled to pull themselves from the water onto the floating debris that had once been part of their home. Two more children, Bob, to the surface, and the men snatched them from the turbulent water. Roofing and other debris flew through the air, killing people adrift on the flotsam. Seeing the garden carnage, the brothers fished out planks of wood from the water to use as shields for hours they drifted.
The water was so high that at first Isaac worried they'd been carried out to sea. Fortunately, around midnight, they collided with more secure structures. The group scrambled over the wreckage, tree branches slammed into people as they tried to reach safety. Finally, Isaac Joseph and the children found shelter in a residence of 28 St.. By daybreak on Sunday, September nine, the brothers crawled from the wreckage, taking in the destruction, they saw nothing but death and devastation.
Galveston was gone. Nearly half the homes were missing, the rest damaged on what used to be eight, the 9th streets, not a single home stood. I had no idea what had happened to the 20000 people known to live there. Trees had snapped in half or had been sheared off by the airborne slate roofs. In the days that followed, Isaac made multiple trips to the hospital in search of his wife.
They suggested he check the morgue, not the one in the hospital, nor the local funeral home. The death toll had been so great that a temporary morgue had been set up at a nearby warehouse. They're the loss was unimaginable, corpses, some puffy and bloated from the water lay in rose, survivors walked up and down the aisles searching for loved ones. Many of the dead had been covered in sheets and blankets. People carefully lifted the edges, looking to see if anyone underneath might be family if they were still recognizable.
Like many others who wandered through the aisles desperately searching for their loved ones, Isaac never found Cora. She and their unborn child were one of the many casualties. Authorities estimated that 8000 people died in the storm, but the death toll might have been as high as 12000 due to the influx of tourists. The hurricaine, what we now know to be a Category four storm, hit the unsuspecting city with sustained winds of one hundred and thirty miles per hour and storm surges over 15 feet, though the city rebuilt razing buildings and constructing a seawall, it never regained the dominant shipping status it once held, giving that honor to Houston.
The Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in the United States and still holds the grim record, the largest death toll of American lives in a single day. And because of it, the weather bureau learned a lesson that cost thousands their lives. Hurricanes don't care about politics. Willis Moore stood by his predictions despite the tremendous death toll, the huge number of resulting houseless and damage that exceeded 700 million dollars in today's money. He refused to admit his mistake.
The weather report had given Isaac for the day of the hurricane, had been for heavy rain and wind, technically accurate, but without the crucial details like the use of the word hurricane. For the following day, he said the forecast would be fair, fresh and possible brisk northerly winds. Most lives could have been saved. The Washington bureau had reports ahead of time showing the storm hadn't curve backward. As predicted, the East Coast had updated more with that much.
New Orleans had noted the path of the storm as well. On September six of nineteen hundred, Captain Halsey of the ship Louisiana reported winds exceeding 100 miles per hour and said the storm was gaining strength as it continued westward. Though the Washington weather bureau knew this, they emphatically insist it wasn't a hurricane and wouldn't hit Texas. When Moore predicted the storm would loop back across central Florida, Cuban forecasters disagreed and warned the weather bureau that the storm would make a direct hit on the Texas coastline.
The Cuban forecasters had been right about predicting not only the hurricane itself, but the path. Moore's failure to listen to the Cuban weather forecasters or acknowledge their expertise prevented him from properly warning Galveston it had indeed all come down to politics. Willis Moore was never reprimanded and continued to serve as the director until 1913, the bureau did reopen some of the communication channels. After the hurricane, though Moore contended that the long range projections that the Cuban meteorologists used were still quackery.
Sadly, science when it comes to hurricanes didn't progress until 1940, and it wasn't until nineteen thirty eight before. Forecasts could include words like tornado continuing to leave people without warning. When Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans in 2005, the damage wasn't from lack of warning or word usage or accuracy in the prediction. In fact, thanks to lessons learned through tragedies like Galveston, the worst case scenario was avoided. But major storms today present a new danger. Our cities are so much more populated than they were over a century ago, and getting people out of them ahead of natural disasters is a major challenge.
And even with an emergency plan and early warning, some people refuse to leave or they wait until the storm arrives. We'll keep learning and getting better at what we do, but none of that will eradicate the biggest danger that we face because the enemy will follow us wherever we go. Our most deadly flaw, human error. There's more to the story. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. Today's episode is brought to you by Better Help, there's nothing wrong about needing some help with your mental health if you're having difficulty with sleep, stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, work, it doesn't have to be bad.
It can get better. And counseling really can make a difference. Better help. Online counseling can match you with licensed professional therapists who are trained in all kinds of issues. You fill out a questionnaire and can start communicating in under 48 hours with unlimited messages plus video or phone sessions at your convenience and confidentially. And if you want to try a different counselor, it's easy and free to rematch. This podcast is sponsored by Better Help and American Chateaus. Listeners get 10 percent off their first month at Better Help Dotcom American Shadows visit better h l.p dot com American chateaus and join the over one million people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced, better health professional.
The Cold War was fought in the skies during the 1960s. U.S. intelligence deployed a vast network of satellites designed to spy on potential Russian, Chinese and Cuban missile sites. After snapping photos, the parachute outfitted film canisters were ejected and later collected by cargo planes. It was a costly endeavor, and the last thing officials wanted was for Cannisters to end up in storms. Highly sophisticated weather satellites were used to make sure that didn't happen, of course, being classified.
Few people even within the military knew of their existence on July 21st of 1969. Air Force meteorologist Hank Brantley noted a major tropical storm forming over part of the Pacific Ocean. The trajectory concerned him not because the storm may or may not have become a hurricane, but because Apollo 11 was just three days from a planned splashdown right in the storm's path. The crew who planned on parachuting into the ocean could be killed. The parachutes were no match for the severe winds and downdrafts.
Bradley had a problem, though he was one of the few who not only knew about the satellite's existence, but it was his job to monitor the data. He stared at the photos, realizing he had to do something, but he wasn't allowed to talk about it to anyone who didn't have the proper clearance. Finally, he located Williard Houston, the man tasked with weather forecasts for the fleet of ships being sent to recover Apollo 11. Both men had clearance and were stationed at Pearl Harbor after reviewing the photos, Houston put the issue up with Rear Admiral Donald Davis.
There was a catch, though, the admiral, even though he was in charge of the ship heading to the Apollo 11 recovery area, didn't have clearance to see the spy satellite photos. In short, Houston had to be creative and convincing without telling Davis where he had gotten the information or mentioning those satellite photos. The satellites weren't even supposed to exist after all. All he could tell the admiral was that Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin would die upon impact if they splashed down in the original drop zone.
Davis took Houston at his word, though. If a meteorologist was wrong, his career was over after advising NASA of the new recovery location. He changed the aircraft carrier USS Hornets course and headed some 250 nautical miles northeast of their current location. The new location altered the Apollo's flight plan, changing a bunch of computer sequences NASA hadn't planned on changing. Meanwhile, the admiral sent reconnaissance aircraft to verify a storm was brewing in the original drop area. They reported back, yes, there was indeed a major storm in the Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii.
The rest, as they say, is history. President Nixon, then the other members of the presidential party, were flown to the USS Arlington on the day of the recovery. Marine One took them to the Hornet. The craft and crew safely splashed down at the new location. Once the crew boarded the Hornet, President Nixon told them this is the greatest week in the history of the world since creation. Had it not been for the quick actions of Brantley and Davis, though, the legendary story of the Apollo 11 mission would have ended in disaster, all thanks to the most unlikely of heroes meteorologist's.
American Châteaux is hosted by Lauren Vogel, this episode was written by Michelle Muto, researched by Ali Steed and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick. To learn more about the show, visit Greyman, Millicom for more podcast from My Heart Radio, visit the radio app Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.