When a particularly
cold norther blew in, it snowed. As the temperature continued to
plummet, the snow froze and so did all but the deeper water of Galveston
Bay. Not only was this a sight to behold, it was actually good news
for the three female residents of the peninsula.
The icy water stunned the marine life in the bay, particularly the
tasty red drum, speckled trout and flounder. Mrs. Long and her slave
harvested several barrels of fish, enough to feed them for a good
So solidly frozen was the bay that at one point, Mrs. Long saw a
large bear amble over to the island from the mainland. Likely, as
was Mrs. Long, the bear was out "fishing" when she spotted him.
Whether the animal made it back to the mainland before the bay thawed
is not known. --
many people lived in Texas in 1821, and no official weather records
were kept. But by the 1870s, the U.S. Army Signal Corps had begun
collecting weather data in Texas and relaying weather conditions
by telegraph. Twenty years later, weather observations in Texas
were state of the art for the times.
That means that what happened during the second and third weeks
of February 1899 is well documented. On February 11, a huge mass
of Arctic air blustered into Texas. The temperature hit 23 degrees
below zero in Tulia,
which meant it was probably even a few degrees colder than that
Like a runaway locomotive pulling only refrigerator cars, the cold
air swept over the entire state. Moving from northwest to south,
on February 12-14 (the dates varying with the progression of the
cold front) Abilene
dropped to -23; Denison
reached -16; Fort Worth-Dallas
saw -10 degrees, Waco
-5, Austin -1 and San
Antonio -4. (Children enjoyed skating on the frozen San Antonio
River.) On the border at Laredo
the mercury remained above zero, but only by 5 degrees. Corpus
Christi dropped to 11 degrees, Brownsville
experienced a 12 degree low and Galveston
chilled to 8 degrees.
Much of Galveston Bay froze, (as did part of Corpus Christi Bay
to the south).
Four years before the record-breaking Arctic front, a heavy snowfall
on Valentine's Day. Though no one's alive to swear to it any more,
we have only the musty record books to attest to the fact that on
Feb. 14, 1895 it snowed 15.2 inches in coastal city where even a
temperature in the 40s is unusual.
The people in the island city, then one of the two biggest in Texas,
must have thought another ice age had begun. Then again, only nine
years before (1884), it also had snowed. That time Galveston Bay
also froze over.
During the snowfall of 1895, Galveston
was inaccessible by train for several days as the temperature hovered
around 24 degrees. Many ships were frozen in their docks and bales
of cotton awaiting loading were covered in snow.
Hack drivers got $20 a ride to take sightseers around town. To make
transportation easier, some enterprising locals mounted their buggies
and wagons on runners. Needless to say, sightseeing was about the
only form of commerce going on with the city in the deep freeze.
Most businesses shut down, and all the schools.
To assess how incredible this snowfall was for Galveston,
it was nearly another century before it happened again. When snow
was officially recorded at the island's weather bureau in 1989 and
again in 1990, however, each instance was only a dusting. The next
significant snow came on Christmas Eve, 2004.
But the 1895
snowfall was Galveston's
heaviest. The weather system that turned Galveston
white was so powerful it even covered Brownsville
with six inches of snow.
The 1899 cold wave that gave Galveston
its record low still stands as the nation's most severe Arctic blast
since the federal government began keeping records. All-time low
temperature records were set all over the U.S. Even the Mississippi
River froze, later sending ice flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
One thing for sure, back then no one was talking about global warming.
"Texas Tales" January
17, 2018 column