This research guide provides information on historic climate and weather in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, including historic hurricanes, floods, and snowfall. The purpose of this research guide is to offer students historical context through access to primary source materials available from the UTRGV University Library Special Collections & Archives as well as highlighting relevant secondary (books) and external (websites) resources.
The natural and historic landscape of the lower Rio Grande Valley continues to be shaped by climate and weather, including historic droughts and storms. For example, the hurricanes of 1844 and 1867 resulted in catastrophic losses--leveling the communities of Brazos Santiago and Clarksville. Extreme flooding, which often follows hurricane landfalls, can result in public health crises (injury, disease, and supply shortages) and can devastate agriculture and infrastructure. Maps and reports officially document the environmental impacts of climate and extreme weather, while photographs and personal diaries shed light on the human experience.
Reference files contain data collected from the National Climate Data Center and news clippings and information about extreme weather events in South Texas, including droughts, hurricanes, flooding, and more.
Climate of extreme southern Texas (1906). Gulf Coast Magazine, UTRGV Digital Library, The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley
Discusses weather and climate conditions in south Texas region. Includes tables of weather data and images of various crops and farming activities including: pineapple, cassava, a banana grove, workers baling alfalfa, palm trees and a corn field, a lake with men in a boat, men loading boxes of onions onto a refrigerated railcar. Some photos by Wheelus.
Collection includes aerial photos, maps, and environmental reports on road plans and construction between 1930 and 1990.
Tamm, Alfred. (1932). "Irrigation, drainage, municipal improvements established in Rio Grande Valley in 190[?]. Irrigation Dist. Bldg. Harlingen, Texas. Phone 130. Alfred Tamm. Blue printing, photostating & supplies".
Map includes data for water districts, fruit and vegetable shipping from 1926 to 1932, temperature and precipitation data for 1911-1932, and town and county information including elevations and census information for1930.
Tamm, Alfred. (1941). Map includes data for water districts, fruit and vegetable shipping from 1926 to 1939, temperature and precipitation data for 1911-1939, and town and county information including elevations and census information for 1920, 1930, and 1940.
By Norman Rozeff for the Valley Morning Star (2019). "The Matamoros Hurricane of 1844 occurred on August 4 and 5 of that year. It was a major hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico and then first hitting the Rio Grande Valley on August 4. It slowly moved through the area, causing, depending on various historical sources,160, or more deaths, some 34 in Matamoros alone. It did not leave a house standing at the mouth of the river or the Brazos Santiago customs station on the north end of the barrier island of Brazos."
More studies in Brownsville history, "Bagdad "Lost City" Of The Rio Grande," by Alan Hollander (pp. 229-235)
"This was a precursor of what was to come. On October 8, 1867 (I've come across different dates but this one is the most prevalent) a hurricane hit the Rio Grande Valley. An account in the San Antonio Express gives a vivid description: "A terrible hurricane commenced at 9 o'clock on Monday night. It sounded like a knell of death and came upon us very suddenly. About half past twelve it began to subside. One third of the city was thrown into the winds. On all hands the consternation of the inhabitants was indescribable. To calculate the amount of damage done is impossible at present. A description of the ruins is impossible, so completely leveled is the city."
Still more studies in Brownsville history, "An Historical Sketch of Fort Brown," by Bruce Aiken (pp. 3-14)
"By 1867, the quartermaster department initiated a building program to restore the fort. The program was barely underway when the most destructive hurricane in recorded history struck the area (Figure 6). The October storm not only levelled all of the military work underway at the post, but caused major damage to Brownsville and Matamoros. In addition, standing water following the storm resulted in health problems. Not until the arrival of winter and a receding of the stagnant water did problems with illness and death subside (Post Returns, Fort Brown 1846-1906; Medical Records, Fort Brown 18681906)."
Daily newspaper from Brownsville, Texas that includes local, state, and national news along with advertising, dates include Sept. 25, 1866-1870. Includes foreign-language pages: Spanish, El Ranchero, Diario <Sept. 13, 1865-June 16, 1866>; French, Le Ranchero de Brownsville, Aug. 21, 1868-Jan. 31, 1869, and Le Ranchero, Mar. 18-July 31, 1869.
"The Storm, Hurricane and Tornado of October 7th and 8th, 1867," The Daily Ranchero, Vol. 3, No. 25, Ed. 1 Friday, November 15, 1867 via Portal to Texas History. Article describes in detail the storm's arrival and aftermath in the weeks to follow across a 100 mile swath of land.
U .S. Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service Gulf of Mexico OCS Region Report: Historic Shipwrecks and Magnetic Anomalies of the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Reevaluation of Archaeological Resource Management Zone 1, Volume III: Appendices
See: Table F-1, p. 46: "1844, August 4-6 Mouth of Rio Grande. Not a vestige of a single house left at Bruos Santiago or at mouth of river . About 70 lives lost."
Prominent members of Hidalgo County formed a relief committee to coordinate aid for citizens suffering as the result of a multi-year drought that impacted many portions of the state. The committee included names like Guerra, Closner, Schunior, Champion, and Jackson among others, who appealed "To the Charitable People of the State of Texas" to send contributions. The drought impacted crops and livestock and in turn, the ability to sustain communities, especially among the poor and Mexican-American population. Source: Newspapers.com The Galveston Daily News, 17 Jul 1892, entitled "Another Appeal: Citizens of Hidalgo County Ask for Aid for Drouth Sufferers."
"Bulletin 5914. A Study of Droughts in Texas" published by the Texas Board of Water Engineers in 1959, found overall rainfall deficiencies during the 1891-1893 drought to be less severe than others, including a more severe drought in 1896-1899. However, this is likely in part due to the few rainfall recordings during the earlier period and the higher annual rainfall in the later period.
Five black and white photographs. Depicted: Destroyed rice mill and Rio Grande Railroad station in Brownsville, Texas "Before the storm this was a three story rice mill in Brownsville"; Destroyed store front after 1933 hurricane "after the storm"; September 4, 1933, overturned box car train at the Santa Rosa Southern Pacific railroad station; Destroyed two story home after the 1919 hurricane "a house in McAllen after the storm".
Sketches, photographs, and timeline kept by Peavey of local and national news between January 16, 1906 through December 7, 1941, including information relating to storms and hurricanes. An excerpt from page 37 indicates two storms in quick succession ripped through the area in September 1933.
The 1933 Cuba–Brownsville hurricane was a category 5 storm that reached peak winds of 160 mph on August 31. On September 5 its winds were estimated at 125 mph when it made landfall in Brownsville. High winds caused heavy damage to the citrus crops and resulted in $16.9 million in damage and 40 deaths in south Texas.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
On September 13, 1936, a strong tropical storm made landfall in Brownsville. This newsreel consists of aerial views of devastated buildings, images of cars plowing through flooded roads and people carrying others to safety. Noted buildings featured include the Southern Pacific Depot (now the Historic Brownsville Museum) and the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
The longest drought on record (8 years) for the state of Texas was also one of the worst in history for the southwestern U.S. In fact, according to a 2018 report on "Drought History for Texas’ 10 Regions, "prepared by the South Central Climate Science Center in Norman, OK, "...the drought of the mid-1940s through the 1950s well exceeds [the] intensity of all other droughts; hence, the period from March 1945 to October 1957 is the drought-of-record for the Lower Valley of Texas."
As in previous droughts, people, crops and animals suffered and federal, state, and local governments were tasked with providing relief. This newspaper clipping from the Valley Morning Star, 17 Jul 1953, reports on emergency feed provided to livestock owners in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties.
On September 20, 1967, Hurricane Beulah made landfall in Brownsville as a category 3 storm with winds over 130 mph. Although the state prepared for the hurricane's landfall, Texas and the counties of deep South Texas did not foresee the excessive storm serge, 115-140 spawned tornadoes, and catastrophic floods in the days that would follow. Beulah resulted in 58 fatalities and $217 million in damage.
By Edwin J. Harvey. The story of Hurricane Beulah has three chapters. Hurricane alerts, preparation and arrival of the storm itself comprise the first. Devastating floodwaters which swept whole houses down the Arroyo Colorado and took highway and railroad bridges out to sea form Chapter 2. And the third, actually the most significant, is the vigor and determination with which the entire Valley launched recovery operations.
Selected newsletters and news releases from the Kika de la Garza Congressional Papers. Kika de la Garza served as Congressman for the 15th Congressional District of Texas from 1965-1996. The collection contains photographs and newsletter relating specifically to Beulah, including President Lyndon Johnson's visit to assess the aftermath.
One scrapbook of photographs taken by Merlin E. Rekward, border patrol agent when Hurricane Beulah made landfall.
Oliver Cromwell Aldrich, Jr. (English)
Oliver Cromwell Aldrich, Jr. (1918-1993) is interviewed by Robert Norton on 1992-04-24 in Houston, Texas. Aldrich recollects his life in Hidalgo County, Texas (San Juan and Edinburg) from the 1920's through the 1950's. He talks about construction of highways, floodways, schooling, agriculture, personalities, frequency of freeze, and river.
Ricardo Cantu (Spanish)
Ricardo M. Cantu talks about growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, his father's work with the Valley Fruit Company, Hurricane Beulah, his time as a Disc Jockey in KURV and KRGV, academics, the Pharr Riot, and discrimination he has faced as a Hispanic. Interview conducted on October 14, 2017 by Kelly Saenz in Brownsville, Texas. Ricardo passed away on August 12, 2020.
Founded in 1954 “to encourage and to aid in the development of local historical societies and to discover, collect, preserve, and publish historical records and data relating to South Texas, and with special emphasis on the Tamaulipan background and the colony of Nuevo Santander.”
An Interview with Conjunto music legend Gilberto Perez is presented, who has a prestigious career as a singer and accordionist. He talks about his experience of performing concerts, his band "Gilberto Perez y Sus Compadres" and band members and the significance of his corrido "Las Crecientes de Beulah" which is a narration of his experience at the time when a destructive hurricane Beulah had hit Rio Grande Valley in Texas, causing displacement of Mexicans as refugees.
Ortiz, F., Jr. (2014). The port in the storm: Mario ramirez, hurricane beulah, and the lower rio grande valley (Order No. 1572713). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Publicly Available Content Database. (1651239666).
The papers were created during Rubén Hinojosa's time as an elected official in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 - 2016, representing the 15th Congressional District in South Texas. The collection consists of legislative material and casework for local projects and issues, including materials relating to Hurricane Dolly (2008) and Hurricane Alex (2010).
A Comparison of Salinity Effects from Hurricanes Dolly (2008) and Alex (2010) in a Texas Lagoon System
Authors: Joseph L. Kowalski, Hudson R. DeYoe, Gilbert H. Boza Jr., Donald L. Hockaday, Paul V. Zimba
Development of Hurricane Storm Surge Model to Predict Coastal Highway Inundation for South Texas
Authors: Sara E. Davila, Adan Garza, Jungseok Ho
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