a surprise attack – a war of winds and water -- a hurricane hit
July 27, 1943, dealing extensive damages and leaving much of the
population reeling in the aftermath. “What was THAT?”
Local residents were not prepared for this mighty storm before it
slammed into the upper Texas
Weather forecasters back then relied on reports from ships at sea,
and, because of the German U-boat activity, radio broadcasts from
ships were silenced. In other words, wartime censorship was affecting
our weather news.
Censorship prevailed even after the storm, and without exact reports,
rumors flew around like storm-propelled debris, spinning exaggerated
tales of damages and deaths.
The red hills of East Texas
rocked with the horror stories about a hurricane that “wiped Baytown
off the map.”
Fearfully, we cut our vacation short, returning home to see if we
still had one.
I’ll never forget the relief and joy we felt as we approached the
entrance of our town, driving past the ship channel docks of Humble
Oil & Refining Co.’s Baytown Refinery.
No need to change the map of Texas,
we concluded. Although hit hard, our town was still there.
Power lines and trees were down, roofs were ripped off, and for
many days we didn’t have water and electricity. It did appear, however,
had survived this mystery storm that blew in from nowhere, packing
132 mph winds.
we didn't know how badly the Baytown Refinery had been hit. The
damage wasn’t visible from the road, but the storm had demolished
four large cooling towers, plus other facilities inside the plant.
Production of high-octane gasoline for aviation fuel, vital for
the Allied Forces, had to be suspended for days after the storm.
For security’s sake, the full impact of the hurricane on the refinery
and other plants along the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay
area was not publicized.
The timing couldn’t have been worse as the tide finally had begun
to turn in our favor in World
We heard that the FBI even shut down a telegraph office in La
Porte because someone sent a wire describing the hurricane damages.
Because of its arrival in the midst of WWII,
the hurricane of 1943 always will be remembered as a “military secret.”
On a positive note, it did help to make military history.
Col. Joe Duckworth, an instructor at the air field in Bryan,
made the first flight into the eye of a hurricane. He proved that
he could fly his single-engine, two-seat AT-6 into the storm and
that both the plane and his instrument flying technique were sound.
In weather forecasting, Duckworth’s flight marked the beginning
of aircraft reconnaissance.
I could have used some of his help around Black Duck Bay.
Baytown Sun Columnist
17, 2012 columns