The day-long forum was presented by researchers from the Rice-based center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters, or SSPEED for short. Those tracking it had an idea of how severe Ike could be. 11-News meteorologist Gene Norman told the gathering they thought they were prepared to track the storm, having done so with Dolly, Eduard, and Gustav. But he says Ike was different.
“I remember looking at the reports that came out of the hurricane center, the re-con planes, and I said I must be reading this wrong because they’re saying hurricane winds extend 200 miles from the center. I said, they can’t possibly mean a 400 mile wide swath of hurricane force winds. And on that Monday, we started getting pictures out of Cuba of 40-foot waves. And even when the anchors read it, they were double checking…Gene, is this right? Are these waves 40-feet high? And I said, well, yeah. This is gonna be bad.”
Gordon Wells is program manager at theCenter for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin. He’s studied the effects of storm surge in the Galveston area for years. He called Ike the worst case scenario when compared to Carla in 1961, the largest hurricane of record in Texas.
“We were seeing such a large amount of water in the gulf stirred up by the wind field of Ike, over several hundred miles, and we could see the storm surge building in Louisiana. We knew that we had from our model runs, an event that could produce a 15 to 20 foot surge inland on the upper Texas coast.”
Ike baffled experts like meteorologist Jeff Lindner with the Harris County Flood Control District. At category-2, they wondered how Ike could produce a tremendous storm surge.
“Ike stands up there with some of the big ones: Opal in 95, Ivan in 04, Katrina 05 — and those were very large storm surge producers.”
Jim Blackburn is an environmental lawyer who teaches at Rice. He says he’s worried about building going on without reference points to storm surge and without protecting residents.
“What happens if you don’t do that, is you get an awful lot of people in a very dangerous area. We’ve got over half a million more people that the Houston-Galveston Area Council is projecting to move into our evacuation zone. Another half a million coming in the next 20 or 30 years. That’s nuts!”
All agree that Hurricane Ike resulted in reams of documentation that can be used to inform the next generation of storm surge models to educate the public to better cope with similar events in the future.
PH, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.