#TBT: Hurricane in 1916 brought punishing winds and damage to Corpus Christi

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Though often overshadowed by the monstrous 1919 hurricane, Corpus Christi endured a significant storm three years earlier in 1916. 

An interesting accounting of the storm is recorded in the Monthly Weather Review, a journal published by the national weather bureau at the time. Weather observer W.F. Lehman provided much of the report on how Corpus Christi fared during the storm.

On the morning of Aug. 18 around 7 a.m., barometer readings up and down the coast were consistent with an approaching hurricane and wind speeds began picking up. Before noon the weather office began issuing hurricane warnings to the city, starting with the coastal areas since officials knew the telegraph lines would go down quickly. 

TOP LEFT: The railroad tracks across Nueces Bay and the new concrete causeway both suffered damage from the 1916 hurricane. TOP RIGHT: The majority of the telegraph lines in the Coastal Bend were toppled by the hurricane on Aug. 18, 1916. BOTTOM: The Corpus Christi Caller of Aug. 22, 1916 detailed many of the effects of the hurricane including the death toll and property damage.

Officials also began notifying people in light-frame buildings to seek shelter for the rest of the day in sturdier buildings, as the worst of the storm was expected between sunset and midnight. A brigade of about 100 automobiles drove around the outlying portions of the city bringing women and children into the business district where the brick buildings provided stronger shelter. As the wind decreased slightly before 5:30 p.m., City Hall, hotels, banks, and schoolhouses filled with evacuees.

More:Corpus Christi’s 1919 hurricane brought destruction, but reshaped the city for the future

And likely not a moment too soon, since the anemometer atop the City National Bank Building blew away after recording 90-mile-per-hour winds around 6:30 p.m. The weather office also lost the rest of their official weather measurements when the glass blew out the windows in the instrument room. Only the barometer survived, because it was bolted to the wall. 

The hurricane made landfall in Kenedy County, and records with the National Weather Service put the winds at around 115 knots, or about 132 miles per hour at landfall. 

The steamboat Pilot Boy lost six of her crew in Port Aransas’ harbor. Two fishermen and a 15-year-old boy were also drowned. Outlying areas also saw deaths in crushed buildings. The waterfront at both North Beach and downtown were heavily damaged, with many of the wharfs and piers washed away, leaving about $1.6 million in damages. Following the storm, the city outlawed building over the the water in the downtown area. North Beach didn’t have the same restrictions, but the 1919 hurricane took care of that when it swept away all but three buildings in that area three years later.

The account also included the loss of many salt cedars in the area, “the pride of Corpus Christi,” but maybe that was for the best, since salt cedars are an invasive species in Texas. 

More:#TBT: Nueces Bay Causeway provided easier link between Corpus Christi and San Pat County

Another big story was the damage to the new concrete Nueces Bay Causeway, which had been open for less than a year before it was damaged by the storm. The 1919 hurricane finished what the 1916 storm started and washed the bridge completely away.

The Monthly Weather Review noted that the storm appeared to form rapidly, thus the storm surge wasn’t as catastrophic as it could have been. Many of the locals and tourists still clung to the misguided notion that Corpus Christi was protected from large hurricanes by some stroke of luck or good geography. After all, the storm was nothing like the monstrous hurricane that decimated Galveston in 1900, or the 1886 storm that wiped Indianola off the map.

More:THROWBACK: In 1999, Hurricane Bret menaced the South Texas coast

The storm’s worst effects came from wind, although high tides and wind driven rain did cause damage. Official rainfall totals for Corpus Christi only hit 1.58 inches. The weather office noted that the rain gauges couldn’t accurately measure the totals, since not only was the rain blowing sideways but with the weather office being only a block away from the bay in downtown it also collected saltwater spray.

And never doubt the weather observers’ commitment to using all their senses to record their data, as the report notes “the water drawn from the rain gage (sic) had a decidedly brackish taste.” Bet you never knew tasting the collected water in the rain gauge was part of the scientific method.

Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe