Friday, September 12, 2008

Ike and Storm Surge

It's ironical that a hurricane named Ike is about to slam into the city that is famous for "Isaac's storm."

In 1900, a hurricane--they didn't have names back then--struck Galveston, Texas, inundating the city in a massive storm surge that killed more than 6000. It was the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history.

That hurricane was dubbed "Isaac's Storm" in a book by Erik Larson chronicling the 1900 catastrophe because the senior metereologist in Galveston at the time was a man named Isaac Cline. Cline initially underestimated the storm, then later--probably when it was too late--told everyone to get out. He didn't, however, and much of his family was lost.

Now Ike is back, this time as his own hurricane, aimed straight at Galveston. Ike is a mere category 2 storm, but that is deceptive. In this case, it's size--not windspeed--that matters, and Ike is a true monster, taking up almost the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Ike's size is cause for concern, because it is piling up an enormous amount of water in front of it. When Ike comes ashore, it will push this massive quantity of water onto land in what's called "storm surge." The storm surge from a hurricane is not unlike a tidal wave. In Ike's case, the surge could be as high as 25 feet at Galveston, enough to breach the city's 17-foot seawall and destroy Galveston again.

Storm surge is the most destructive part of a hurricane, capable of wiping out just about anything in its path.

Apart from Galveston, another concern is ugly Port Arthur, Texas, where a significant share of the nation's oil refining capacity is located. Port Arthur is also looking at a devastating storm surge, enough to put several refineries out of action for an indefinite period of time, sending the nation into yet another gasoline shock.

Houston will suffer, but not too badly. The wind from Ike will be nasty, but not devastating, and rain from the storm will be only average.

New Orleans was prepared for Gustav a couple weeks ago. Are Texans ready for Ike? It doesn't appear that they are--the Coast Guard is ALREADY rescuing 37,000 stranded motorists by helicopter.

Perhaps Ike will give the Bush administration another black eye, and remind us of the danger of putting someone like Sarah Palin--as shallow, petty, vindictive, incompetent and fiscally irresponsible as W Bush--so close to the Presidency.

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