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September 11, 2008

Galveston in peril


Texas officials are warning residents of the Galveston area that the city's 17-foot seawall may well be overtopped as Ike comes ashore late tomorrow, and their homes on the island may be be flooded up to the eaves - 14 feet.

Ike may not have winds enough to put it into Cat. 4 or Cat. 5 territory. But it is a very broad storm and it is moving a great deal of water. Storm surges ahead of Ike, from the center to the east, could reach as much as 20 feet, forecasters are saying, and will almost certainly - even at lesser heights - cause disastrous flooding well up into Galveston Bay and elsewhere in the region.

Galvestonhistory.orgIf you've ever been to Galveston, you know what a lovely city it is, filled with beautiful old homes restored or rebuilt after the calamitous hurricane of 1900. That storm caused terrible damage and killed what has been estimated to be 8,000 people - maybe more. It remains the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the U.S. One hates to see the city's homes suffer a similar fate 108 years later. But at least this time people have been given the information, the time and the opportunity they need to flee, unlike in 1900.

Is Ike a monster? If you measure it by storm surge, or square miles of ocean covered, maybe so. I've seen some impressive arguments to that effect since this morning's post and I'm willing to concede that point. It surely will be for those in its path. Here's the latest from the folks at WeatherBug:

"Ike may not be as strong as a Category 3 storm, but its impact could be similar.  Offshore buoys have reported waves up to 30 feet.  Also, tidal gauges along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are 2 to 5 feet above normal.  Strong easterly winds on the north side of Ike will continue to drive the waves along the coast, leading to a significant storm surge of perhaps 15 to 20 feet above normal tide just north of where Ike makes landfall.

"Track forecasts are also nudging northward as Ike is expected to move along the backside of a building subtropical ridge over the southwest Atlantic and the Southeast U.S.  There is very good model agreement in taking Ike north of Corpus Christi, to just south of Galveston Bay, which increases the chances for significant impacts (wind, surge, tornadoes) in the Houston metro area.  In addition, the oil refineries will be hit by strong winds and high waves."

If you measure "monstrous," after the fact, by the loss of life, by damage to the region (and repercussions across the economy if Houston is paralyzed, and the refineries are knocked out), it looks like we'll have the answer in a few days.

Then what? Should people be encouraged and subsidized to rebuild along the coast? Good question. Why does anyone build (or insure) homes in the paths of these storms? With enough time, calamity is inevitable. But of course they will rebuild, just as we would in Ocean City. Just as we have in Isabel's wake. And as sea levels continue to rise, these surge and flood events will only get worse. Makes you wonder how smart we really are.

Here's the latest advisory on Ike. Here is the forecast storm track. Here is the view from orbit.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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