Weather Nerd

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 2008

11:35 PM EDT: Hurricane Ike will make landfall on Galveston Island in the next few hours. Massive ocean waves are bearing down on the vulnerable Texas coast, riding atop a freakishly huge storm surge that will be peaking while the tide is coming in. Needless to say, this is not a good situation.

I’ve decided not to stay up all night and liveblog, since it’ll probably be hard to tell just how bad the storm-surge flooding is till daybreak anyway. I figure it doesn’t make a lot of sense to stay up until shortly before dawn, and then go to bed, just when the extent of Ike’s impact is becoming clear. Instead, I intend to wake up around 6:00 AM EDT tomorrow, and resume blogging at that time.

In the mean time, you can follow Ike’s progress overnight via my various links in the sidebar at right, including links to other folks who are liveblogging. In addition, Houston Chronicle reporters are liveblogging, too. Michelle Malkin has more links. Last but not least, you can watch Ike’s storm surge in real time using the special surge data page I’ve created.

A very brief primer on Ike, for new readers: as I’ve explained repeatedly, Ike is a freak storm — not a “normal” Category 2 — and an extremely high storm surge, of Category 4 proportions, is widely expected by experts. Galveston’s seawall will probably be overtopped, and even if it is not, huge portions of the island will be flooded. Damage will be tremendous all throughout Galveston Bay and up the coast to Port Arthur and southwestern Louisiana. Moreover, with many thousands of people foolishly choosing to ride out the storm in vulnerable coastal areas, including Galveston Island itself, a very large death toll seems possible. I’ve titled this post “The Great Galveston Hurricane of 2008” because I fear we may be calling it that soon enough.

I guess we can hope the surge projections are somehow flawed, due to the computer models failing to capture something about Ike’s bizarre structure, or whatever. In other words, we can hope against hope that things won’t be as bad as we presently fear. I don’t know that there’s any valid reason to hope that, but I’ll hope it anyway. Certainly, Ike’s winds are not going to be anything catastrophic, Geraldo Rivera’s theatrics notwithstanding. The storm surge is the issue here. And by all indications, it’s going to be terrible. But I’ll say a prayer that those indications are, somehow, wrong.

[UPDATE, 1:04 AM EDT: Okay, I’m not in bed yet — and I’ve found some reason to hope, for Galveston at least: “Regardless of whether the eye center passes just west, directly over, or just east of Galveston…I think the rightward jog that has occurred basically ensures that Galveston will miss the core of the highest storm surge. Remember, the region of maximum surge is actually pretty significantly further to the right of where the eye makes landfall . . . Galveston will still experience significant flooding, don’t get me wrong, but the absolute worst of the surge is almost certainly going to be farther east…affecting the Port Arthur/Beaumont/Orange area.” That’s according to a contributor at the Eastern U.S. WX Forums. Dunno if it’s right. Certainly, the worst of the surge being further up the coast is correct, but as for whether Galveston will avoid total destruction — we’ll find out in the morning, I guess. … And now, I’m really going to bed. Honest.]

Anyway, here’s the live NWS radar view. (NOTE: If you’ve visited multiple times, you may need to reload this page to see the latest image below.)

As I said, you can follow Ike via the links at right. In addition, Pajamas TV and NC4 are running a project called Disaster Watch which aims to, in essence, centralize public damage reports via Twitter and such. Looks interesting.

Finally, here is the Reuters article:

Hurricane Ike bore down on the coast of Texas on Friday, driving a wall of water into seaside communities and threatening catastrophic damage all the way up to Houston.

In what may be the worst storm to hit Texas in nearly 50 years, Ike’s center was within hours of overwhelming low-lying areas near Houston with a possible 20-foot (6-metre) storm surge. … Ike could flood as many as 100,000 homes and send a storm wave across 100 miles (180 km) of U.S. coastline.

“Our nation is facing what is by any means a potentially catastrophic hurricane,” said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, warning that the storm surge could present the gravest danger.

“This certainly falls in the category of pretty much a worst case scenario,” he said.

P.S. For new readers, via InstaPundit or wherever, who don’t understand how a “mere” Category 2 hurricane could cause these sorts of alarms: I quote Dr. Jeff Masters, from yesterday:

Hurricane Ike’s winds remain at Category 2 strength, but Ike is a freak storm with extreme destructive storm surge potential. . . . Ike’s huge wind field has put an extraordinarily large volume of ocean water in motion. When this swirling column of water hits the shallow waters of the Continental Shelf, it will be be forced up into a large storm surge . . .

The amount of water Ike has put in motion is about 10% greater than what Katrina did, and thus we can expect Ike’s storm surge damage will be similar to or greater than Katrina’s. The way we can estimate this damage potential is to compute the total energy of Ike’s surface winds (kinetic energy). . . . This “Integrated Kinetic Energy” was recently proposed by Dr. Mark Powell of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division as a better measure of the destructive power of a hurricane’s storm surge than the usual Category 1-5 Saffir-Simpson scale. For example, Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi as a strong Category 3 hurricane, yet its storm surge was more characteristic of a Category 5 storm. Dr. Powell came up with a new scale to rate potential storm surge damage . . . [which] ranges from 1-6. Katrina and Wilma at their peaks both earned a 5.1 on this scale. At 12:30pm EDT [Thursday], Ike earned a 5.2 on this scale, the second highest kinetic energy of any Atlantic storm in the past 40 years.

Ike’s “Integrated Kinetic Energy” value has decreased slightly since then, but it’s still very high, and that — combined with the duration of the surge, spanning several high tides, due to the storm’s massive size — is why coastal flooding is expected to reach such catastrophic proportions, even though Ike isn’t even technically a “major hurricane.”