National Hurricane Boss Comes Home to See Ike Devastation

National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read completed an evaluation of Ike’s impact along the U.S. coastline. He says there were similarities with a deadly storm over a hundred years ago. Pat Hernandez has more.

image of Bill ReadRead took to the air to see the mark left by Hurricane Ike. He says while no two storms are alike:

“When it hit Cuba and weakened and came off Cuba, it happened to hit Cuba somewhere around the eighth of September, the anniversary of course, of the 1900 storm. Well, the 1900 storm was a Cape Verde type storm that wallowed around Cuba and came off, weakened into the Gulf of Mexico. Back then, we had no satellites, radio or anything, so we had no idea where it was in the Gulf of Mexico, except for post analysis from ship reports and really looking at the data. It’s a very similar track to what Ike followed.”

Before he was named to head the National Hurricane Center, Read directed the Houston-Galveston weather forecast office of the National Wx Service. He led it through through a period of modernization and restructuring. He says the Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures hurricane strength based on wind speed, does not consider storm surge, which was Ike’s calling card.

“It was designed around construction practices and wind speed damage so, the surge, that’s universal. Wind is wind anywhere you go, and its impact on a building. The function there is how well the building was built. So, storm surge varies. A category three hurricane coming into the coastline of Florida just gets the immediate barrier island, hits a bluff and stops. It’s a shallow continental shelf so, it doesn’t get as high to begin with. So every place along the coast you would have to have a different storm surge parameter, if that was to be tied to a scale. So no one scale is going to fit, it’s different for every community.”

He says had Ike increased to a category-4, it would have been awful. With the exception of Galveston residents who chose to ride the storm out, Read says Houston’s evacuation plan went better than expected.

“So, maybe next time we’ll get it right, and have the right number of people leave, the right number of people stay. And there will be a next time, you know.”

Hopefully, not this hurricane season.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.