Natural Disasters in Texas
From blistering wildfires and devastating hurricanes to snow blizzards and flash floods, Texas has it all. The wide range of natural disasters that happen in the Lone Star State is mainly thanks to its enormous size— its 268,596 square miles contain different climates and weather types.
Top Natural Disasters
Here’s a look at the different ways that extreme weather finds a home in Texas with an overview of some of the most notable natural disasters to hit Texas. But first, here’s a look at the most common types of extreme weather:
Texas is second only to the state of Florida for the average number of yearly hurricanes. The hurricane season lasts from mid-summer to late fall with cities near the Gulf Coast, such as Houston and Galveston, most at risk.
All areas of the Lone Star State are at risk from floods whenever there are periods of heavy rainfall. Flash flooding is common, occurs quickly, and can put lives at risk.
Extreme heat and large areas of dry grassland combine to make Texas particularly prone to wildfires. Texas A&M Forest Service estimates that 90% of the fires are found to have been caused by people.
Texans have to cope with the highest number of tornadoes of any U.S. state with a yearly average of 139. Tornadoes are typically around one mile in width and the rotating funnel-shaped clouds have the power to devastate an area, lifting vehicles and destroying homes.
Texas has an average of 50 thunderstorm days each year which typically feature lighting, heavy rainfall, hailstorms and strong winds. They are most likely to occur between spring and late fall.
While winter storms do not pose the same risks as tropical storms, Texas is prone to a range of extreme winter weather with ice, snow storms, and blizzards that can cause power outages, hazardous driving conditions, and hypothermia.
What Is the Most Common Natural Disaster in Texas?
With an average of more than 900 incidents each year, wildfires are the most common natural disaster in Texas. High summer temperatures, periods of drought, and large areas of dry grassland make the state particularly prone with it being second only to California for the number of wildfires each year.
A real-time overview of current wildfire hotspots is provided by the Texas A&M Forest Service.
What Natural Disasters Occurred in Texas?
There is limited documentation for natural disasters occurring in Texas before 1900 but a timeline of known hurricanes, dating back to 1527, can be found below:
1900: Hurricane Galveston
The deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history with more than 8,000 people killed as the coastal town of Galveston was worst hit by the 135mph winds and 15-foot waves. The hurricane which hit on August 27th destroyed over 3,600 homes and left around 10,000 in the city homeless.
1919: Corpus Christi Storm
An estimated 284 lives were lost and 900 buildings destroyed when the port of Corpus Christi was devastated by a hurricane that hit on September 14th, 1919. A surge caused by the storm left large areas of the city submerged under four feet of water.
1953: Waco Tornado
This powerful Force 5 tornado struck Waco on May 11th, 1953, killing 144 and destroying more than 1,600 homes and buildings. It was part of an outbreak of tornadoes with 33 reported over a tempestuous two-day period.
1970: Hurricane Celia
Winds of around 180 mph, storm surges, and flooding devasted large areas with the coastal city of Corpus Christi being hit the hardest. More than 8,950 homes were destroyed and 27 people died during the five-day storm which blew down over 3,000 power poles.
1983: Hurricane Alicia
A Category 3 hurricane that killed 21 and caused more than $2 billion of property damage with the island of Galveston worst affected. In Houston, city streets became littered with glass and debris as low-level windows were blown out of skyscrapers.
1997: Jarrell Tornado
The lives of 27 people were lost when a tornado struck the small Texas town of Jarrel. Much of the devastation was caused by the tornado's unusually slow movement, extending the ravaging impact of its 300mph winds on the town.
1998: Texas Floods
Heavy rain caused by two active hurricanes led to extensive flash flooding along the Guadalupe River with property damage across the San Antonio metro area. Floods led to the deaths of 31 people with most of these caused by motorists attempting to cross flooded sections of roads.
2001: Tropical Storm Allison
This powerful storm devastated southeast Texas, and caused 55 deaths and more than $10 billion in damage, with the city of Houston worst hit. Despite never reaching hurricane levels, the severity of the storm led to the Allison name being retired from future use.
2006: East Amarillo Complex Fire
Strong winds and dry March weather led to a series of wildfires that combined to form the ‘complex’ that killed 12 people and burnt almost a million acres of land.
2008: Hurricane Ike
A powerful tropical cyclone had a devastating impact on Texas coastal areas, resulting in an estimated 74 deaths. Areas of Galveston were submerged under six feet of water with building destruction and power outages across the region.
2011: Bastrop County Complex Fire
Regarded as the most destructive wildfire in the history of Texas, 1,691 homes were lost as high winds helped the fire to spread rapidly. Starting on September 4, it was not until October 10 that the authorities were able to contain the fire.
2017: Hurricane Harvey
A Category 4 hurricane that caused catastrophic flooding and the deaths of more than 100. Starting on August 17 and lasting for four days, the heaviest rainfall was recorded in Nederland, Texas.
In Conclusion: Future Risks?
While the state of Texas is prone to a mix of different severe weather types, major disasters causing large-scale death and destruction remain rare. A report by Texas A&M University into future extreme weather trends suggests that future risks in Texas will be caused by rising temperatures and periods of drought. So, it’s good to be prepared for a disaster!
And if you’re finding all this talk of weather disasters frightening then the last thing you should do is check out this list of the 22 most scary places in the Lone Star State.