Pray for Galveston

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This statement was issued by the Galveston National Weather Service office on Thursday: All neighborhoods… and possibly entire coastal communities… will be inundated during high tide. Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single family one or two story homes will face certain death. Many residences of average construction directly on the coast will be destroyed. Widespread and devastating personal property damage is likely elsewhere. Vehicles left behind will likely be swept away. Numerous roads will be swamped… some may be washed away by the water. Entire flood prone coastal communities will be cutoff. Water levels may exceed 9 feet for more than a mile inland. Coastal residents in multi-story facilities risk being cutoff. Conditions will be worsened by battering waves. Such waves will exacerbate property damage… with massive destruction of homes… including those of block construction. Damage from beach erosion could take years to repair. And here is the bad part: This is not hype. This is the real thing. Do not be fooled by Ike’s status as a Category 2 hurricane. It is larger and more dangerous than Katrina. Katrina was a fluke. The catastrophe was not the work of nature; it was the work of man — the poor construction and maintenance of the New Orleans levee system, the botched evacuation, and the failure of the federal government to respond in time to mitigate death and damage. What makes Ike so dangerous is its size. It covers so much of the Gulf of Mexico that its winds — maximum sustained velocity of 105 miles per hour at mid-afternoon– can push vast amounts of water in front of it, extending over a large area. This is the storm surge. The 4 p.m. advisory estimates a storm surge of 20 feet, 25 feet close to the eye. To make matters worse, the storm will probably make landfall at high tide sometime after midnight. And the advisory speaks of “large and battering waves.” (I will post the advisory below this report.) I have watched TV all day with a growing feeling of dread. That is because I am BOI — a term that identifies a native of Galveston, “born on the island.” When I saw the video of waves crashing over the seawall, my stomach started to churn. Galveston could be destroyed tonight. I am not exaggerating. Everything depends on the storm track, whether the city takes a direct hit, or whether the expected turn to the north and east occurs first. If there is a direct hit, the storm surge will be 20 to 25 feet, and the ocean will top the seawall and flow over Galveston. In addition to the water level, there will be huge waves that will batter anything they encounter. The house where I grew up, three blocks from the seawall, may not exist in the morning. The debris from the first buildings to be destroyed will destroy the next line of buildings. This is what happened in the 1900 storm that left an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people dead. The only thing that saved my grandmother’s house is that the damage was so severe that it formed a breakwater that ran across the middle of the island, around thirty feet high. Everything on the Gulf side of the breakwater was destroyed; everything on the bay side survived. As bad as this is, what happens inland could be worse. The storm surge will go into Galveston Bay and pile up water that will roll across the lowlying countryside. This area is heavy developed. All of that water that goes into the bay will have to come back out again, and it will inundate Galveston Island from the rear when it comes. Left behind will be thousands of homes that are unreachable and uninhabitable, seriously damaged by wind and water and without power. People will not be able to return to their houses when the storm passes. The harm to the Texas economy will be considerable. The National Hurricane Center is predicting Category 4 winds aloft (see discussion below). One-fourth of the refining capacity of the U.S. is located on the Houston Ship Channel. How these industries will come through the hurricane is beyond my ability to predict. If they sustain considerable damage, one can expect gasoline prices to soar. This is a terrible catastrophe, and we can only hope that when morning comes, Galveston and Houston will have been spared the worst. Here is the 11 p.m. “discussion” from the National Hurricane Center. Readers should find it more informative than the usual advisories. NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL092008 1100 PM EDT FRI SEP 12 2008 A PLETHORA OF DATA FROM NOAA DOPPLER WEATHER RADARS…NOAA AND AIR FORCE RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT…AND SATELLITE IMAGERY ALL INDICATE THAT THE STRUCTURE OF IKE HAS IMPROVED MARKEDLY OVER THE PAST 6 HOURS…AND A 40 NMI DIAMETER EYE HAS BECOME PROMINENT. THE LOWEST PRESSURE REPORTED BY RECON HAS BEEN 952 MB. DOPPLER RADAR VELOCITIES IN THE NORTHERN EYEWALL AT 6500 FT HAVE BEEN AS HIGH AS 114 KT…AND A DROPSONDE IN THAT SAME AREA MEASURED A PEAK WIND VALUE OF 116 KT. MAXIMUM FLIGHT-LEVEL WINDS AT 700 MB HAVE RANGED FROM 103-105 KT…AND A RELIABLE SFMR SURFACE WIND SPEED OF 90 KT WAS MEASURED IN THE SOUTHERN EYEWALL AROUND 0140Z. ALL OF THIS INFORMATION CORRESPONDS TO A MAXIMUM SURFACE WIND SPEED ESTIMATE OF 95 KT. THE LARGE EYE OF IKE HAS BEEN WOBBLING CONSIDERABLY OVER THE PAST 6 HOURS…BUT A GENERAL MOTION OF 315/10 SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN THE PREFERRED DIRECTION OF TRAVEL. SHORT TERM EXTRAPOLATION WOULD PLACE THE CENTER OF IKE ALONG GALVESTON ISLAND AND/OR THE UPPER-TEXAS COAST SHORTLY BEFORE SUNRISE SATURDAY MORNING. AFTER LANDFALL…IKE IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE MOVING AROUND THE WESTERN PERIPHERY OF A SUBTROPICAL RIDGE SITUATED EAST-WEST ALONG THE NORTHERN GULF COAST AND TURN NORTHWARD IN ABOUT 12-18 HOURS…AND THEN RECURVE RAPIDLY TO THE NORTHEAST BY 24 HOURS AHEAD OF A FAST APPROACHING FRONTAL SYSTEM. BY 36-48 HOURS…IKE MAY BECOME ABSORBED BY THE FRONTAL SYSTEM OVER THE UPPER MIDWEST. THE OFFICIAL FORECAST TRACK IS ESSENTIALLY JUST AN UPDATE OF THE PREVIOUS TRACK…AND IS DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE TIGHTLY CLUSTERED NHC MODEL GUIDANCE. IKE STILL HAS ABOUT A 6-HOUR WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY TO STRENGTHEN INTO A 100-KT MAJOR HURRICANE. EQUALLY IMPORTANT…HOWEVER…IS THE EFFECT THAT STRONGER WINDS ALOFT WILL HAVE ON HIGH RISE BUILDINGS. WIND DATA FROM LAND-BASED DOPPLER RADARS AND AIRCRAFT DROPSONDES INDICATE THAT WINDS NEAR CATEGORY 4 STRENGTH…115 KT OR 130 MPH …EXIST JUST A FEW HUNDRED FEET ABOVE THE SURFACE. THERE COULD BE A REPEAT OF DAMAGE TO WINDOWS IN HIGH RISE STRUCTURES SIMILAR TO WHAT OCCURRED DURING HURRICANE ALICIA IN 1983. THE PEAK WIND SPEED AND VARIOUS WIND RADII WERE HELD HIGHER THAN OUR INLAND WIND DECAY MODELS ARE PREDICTING DUE TO THE MUCH LARGER SIZE OF IKE. ONE SHOULD EMPHASIZE THAT IKE IS A VERY LARGE HURRICANE AND REGARDLESS OF WHERE THE CENTER OF THE HURRICANE MAKES LANDFALL…THE EFFECTS WILL BE FELT AT LARGE DISTANCES FROM THE CENTER. IN ADDITION…THE LARGEST STORM SURGE WILL OCCUR WITHIN THE ONSHORE FLOW NEAR OR JUST AFTER LANDFALL. WATER LEVELS HAVE ALREADY RISEN MORE THAN 9 TO 12 FEET ACROSS A LARGE AREA OF THE NORTHWESTERN GULF OF MEXICO…INCLUDING GALVESTON ISLAND. A HURRICANE WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA TO NORTH OF PORT ARANSAS TEXAS. HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO REACH THE COAST IN THE WARNING AREA LATER TODAY. A TROPICAL STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM PORT ARANSAS TO PORT MANSFIELD TEXAS. A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT FROM EAST OF MORGAN CITY TO THE MISSISSIPPI-ALABAMA BORDER… INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN. FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR AREA…INCLUDING POSSIBLE INLAND WATCHES AND WARNINGS…PLEASE MONITOR PRODUCTS ISSUED BY YOUR LOCAL WEATHER OFFICE. AT 400 PM CDT…2100Z…THE CENTER OF HURRICANE IKE WAS LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 27.7 NORTH…LONGITUDE 93.5 WEST OR ABOUT 135 MILES…220 KM…SOUTHEAST OF GALVESTON TEXAS AND ABOUT 240 MILES…385 KM… EAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI TEXAS. IKE HAS BEEN MOVING BETWEEN THE WEST-NORTHWEST AND NORTHWEST NEAR 12 MPH…19 KM/HR. A NORTHWEST MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TODAY WITH A TURN TOWARD THE NORTH EXPECTED ON SATURDAY. ON THE FORECAST TRACK…THE CENTER OF IKE WILL BE VERY NEAR THE UPPER TEXAS COAST BY LATE TODAY OR EARLY SATURDAY. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS REMAIN NEAR 105 MPH…165 KM/HR…WITH HIGHER GUSTS. IKE IS A CATEGORY TWO HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE BUT COULD REACH THE COAST AS A CATEGORY THREE…MAJOR HURRICANE. STRONGER WINDS…ESPECIALLY IN STRONGER GUSTS…ARE LIKELY ON HIGH RISE BUILDINGS. IKE REMAINS A VERY LARGE HURRICANE. HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 120 MILES…195 KM…FROM THE CENTER…AND TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 275 MILES…445 KM. ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 955 MB…28.20 INCHES. COASTAL STORM SURGE FLOODING OF UP TO 20 FEET…WITH A FEW SPOTS TO NEAR 25 FEET…ABOVE NORMAL TIDES ALONG WITH LARGE AND DANGEROUS BATTERING WAVES…CAN BE EXPECTED NEAR AND TO THE EAST OF WHERE THE CENTER OF IKE MAKES LANDFALL. THE SURGE EXTENDS A GREATER THAN USUAL DISTANCE FROM THE CENTER DUE TO THE LARGE SIZE OF THE CYCLONE. WATER LEVELS HAVE ALREADY RISEN BY MORE THAN 5 FEET ALONG MUCH OF THE NORTHWESTERN GULF COAST. DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE IN THE EYE. THE STRONGEST WINDS AND HIGHEST SURGE WILL LIKELY OCCUR NEAR OR JUST AFTER THE EYE MAKES LANDFALL. IKE IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE RAINFALL AMOUNTS OF 5 TO 10 INCHES OVER EASTERN TEXAS AND EXTREME SOUTHWESTERN LOUISIANA…WITH ISOLATED AMOUNTS OF 15 INCHES POSSIBLE. ISOLATED TORNADOES ARE POSSIBLE TONIGHT OVER PORTIONS OF SOUTHERN LOUISIANA AND SOUTHEASTERN TEXAS.

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