El Campo and the rest of Wharton County hasn’t felt the sting of rain driven by hurricane force wind in 60 years when Carla made history with the destruction it wrought.
Since 1961, 19 tropical disturbances have made landfall with its eye passing within 50 miles of El Campo’s City Hall. Of those, only two were hurricanes– Alicia in 1983 (a Category 3 storm) and Claudette in 2003 (a Category 1 storm).
Alicia came ashore east of Danbury in Brazoria County putting Wharton county on the “clean side” of the storm – the western side historically having less rain and wind. Claudette made landfall just east of Port O’Conner and dropped plenty of rain, but was comparatively a small hurricane.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen here. It already has.
Eight unforgettable storms
Carla Category 5 storm – Sept. 3-16, 1961. “County has $9 million in Carla disaster damage,” the Sept. 19, 1961 edition of the El Campo Citizen reported. In modern dollars, that’s more than $68 million.
An estimated 2,500 truck-trailer loads (no definition of how much that equaled) of debris had been pulled from the city with work continuing for months.
The Houston Chronicle on Sept. 17, 1961 proclaimed “little damage”in Wharton County – conditions were just that bad to the south.
Category 4 storm – Aug. 24-29, 1945. The unnamed storm made landfall in Matagorda County southeast of Palacios as a Category 4 hurricane. Entering Wharton County still as a Category 4, the eye passed between Boling and Wharton then to the east of Hungerford and East Bernard.
The Aug. 31, 1945 El Campo Citizen reported $500,000 damage just in the city. Damage to Wharton County crops were estimated at $4 million then – $50.2 million to today’s dollars.
1942 storm. This storm formed Aug. 21, 1942 and reached Category 3 before making landfall just southeast of Victoria as a Category 1 storm with a punch. They called it the worst storm in 56 years – comparing it to the 1886 storm that wiped the port city of Indianola off the map.
Wind in the city of Wharton was reported at 90 mph and countywide losses were reported at $1 million ($13.8 million by today’s standards).
1909 storm. Between July 13-22, 1909 a storm came ashore as a Category 3 from Brazoria County and passed through El Campo as a Category 2 with the eye moving through just east of the city between the El Campo city limits and Pierce.
The 1909 storm was reported as the “worst and most destructive storm in the history of the Texas Coast,” according to a recollection in the 1945 El Campo Citizen. “Not a house in this city and not a barn or tree is left in what may be said to be a safe and good condition.”
All churches, houses and schools were destroyed, but no lives lost.
Others. Wharton County experienced four other hurricanes between 1842 and 1960. One that hit June 15-26, 1921 passed through Pierce as a Category 1 storm.
A Category 4 storm passed through Fort Bend County Aug. 5-Aug. 23, 1915 about 42 miles east of El Campo – close enough to cause damage. Luckily, the city was on the “clean side of the storm” once again.
June 16-18, 1888, a Category 1 storm formed and passed through county at Pierce as a tropical storm then entered Colorado County between Garwood and Eagle Lake.
The earliest storm on record took place Sept. 18-20, 1854. That hurricane reached Category 2 strength at its height. It passed through Pierce as a Category 1 storm and went through Colorado County midway between Garwood and the Lavaca County line.