NPR reports that many people are still in Galveston, evidently looking forward to riding out Ike as if it was the latest thrill ride. Taking pictures with their cellphones. The Police Chief of the town of Surfside told a couple that refused to evacuate to write their names and social security numbers on their forearms in magic marker. In case something bad happened. The couple changed their minds. I think this is good advice for all you stormriders in Galveston. Something bad will happen, and it’s too late to change your mind.
Hope you have a magic marker.
Hurricane Ike is hours away from landfall on the upper Texas coast, and is already generating huge storm surges in Texas and Lousiana. Although still of Category 2 strength, Ike remains larger and more powerful than Category 5 Katrina or Category 5 Rita. As I discussed in yesterday’s blog entry, a good measure of the storm surge potential is Integrated Kinetic Energy (IKE). Ike’s Integrated Kinetic Energy has fallen from 149 Terajoules this morning to 124 at 3:30 pm EDT this afternoon. However, this is still larger than the total energy Katrina had at landfall, and Ike’s storm surge potential rates a 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 6.
Ike is attempting to create a new eyewall, and visible satellite loops and Galveston radar suggest the storm is becoming more organized. However, Ike has only a few more hours over water, and there is not time for the hurricane to intensify more than 5-10 mph before landfall. Ike will not inflict extreme wind damage like Katrina’s or Rita’s. The big story with Ike will be the storm surge.
According to the NOAA tide gauges, storm tides are running 6-8 feet above normal along the central Louisiana coast this afternoon. The nola.com web site is reporting that a 9 foot storm surge affected the Industial Canal in New Orleans. Extensive flooding of low lying towns outside the New Orleans levee system is occurring. Surge overtopped a St. Mary Parish levee near the town of Gordy, and a six-foot-wide breach was reported in a non-federal parish levee near the towns of Caernarvon, Scarsdale, White Ditch and Braithwaite.
The fact that Ike’s storm surge has reached such high levels 200-300 miles north of the storm is a very bad omen for the upper Texas and western Louisiana coasts. The latest forecast surge values from NOAA:
Shoreline of Galveston Bay… 15 to 22 feet
Bolivar Peninsula… 17 to 20 feet
Galveston Island… … 14 to 17 feet
Gulf-facing coastline from Sargent to San Luis Pass… 8 to 14 feet
I’ve given the mistaken impression that the Galveston sea wall will save the city from inundation. That is not the case. The wall merely protects the city from a frontal assault by the storm surge and the 20 foot waves likely to be on top of the surge. Ike will flood the city of Galveston. However, the predicted level of surge will be just beneath the sea wall. If the surge exceeds the 17 foot forecast, it will overtop the sea wall and act like a battering ram against the buildings in Galveston. It is also possible that the sea wall will be destroyed along some sections, allowing the ocean direct access to Galveston.
The situation is also grim for Port Arthur, Texas, on the Louisiana border. The expected storm surge of 15-20 feet will overtop the city’s seawall by six feet, resulting in flooding of the city and a number of major oil refineries. Expect a significant tightening of gas supplies in coming months, due to extensive damage to the oil refineries in the Houston and Port Arthur area.
Winds in the Houston metro area will increase to tropical storm force–39 mph–early this evening, and remain that strong for about 20 hours. Houston will be on the left (weak) side of Ike, and will miss the storm’s strongest winds. Nevertheless, winds of Category 1 hurricane force (75-85 mph) will affect the city for about a 4-hour period in the early morning hours of Saturday. People in well-built homes will suffer only minor damage, but mobile homes and homes not build to code will suffer significant damage. The extremely long duration of the hurricane force winds will cause much greater damage than is typical for a hurricane of this strength.
Expect hurricane force winds of 74 mph will penetrate about 110 miles inland, near the cities of Huntsville and Livingston to the north of Galveston, and not quite reaching Lufkin. We can expect Ike to cause the largest and longest-lived power outage in Texas history, with power knocked out along a 200-mile wide swath in eastern Texas and extreme western Louisiana extending 300 miles inland to I-20. Dallas will be at the fringe of the region of widespread power outages, and should not suffer major power failures.
Here is the latest update from Chuck Watson at KAC/UCF as of Sep 12 (16:00 EDT)
Ike remains atypical in structure. Interestingly, the wave and wind fields are stronger on the back side of the storm than in the right front quadrant, due to wind and fetch considerations. The “eyewall” is visible on radar, and looks to make landfall on the north side of Galveston Bay, to the right of the current NHC track. Expect them to shift a bit north in the next advisory. Given this structure, I seriously doubt Ike can intensify much before landfall. However, the wide wave field and potential for 20ft storm surge along a wide stretch of coastline will still cause a lot of coastal damage.
The track and intensity forecast has enough confidence to start looking at very detailed impacts. Offshore, I’m not expecting much damage. The wave field, while extensive, is within the design margins of all but the older, less productive platforms. 30 ft waves sounds like a lot in the Gulf, and I wouldn’t want to be out in it, but you have to get above 50 ft to really cause significant damage.
The refineries remain a significant concern. I’m less concerned about wind, unless we get unlucky and something breaks that shouldn’t. The big question now is down to flooding, and the main facility I am worried about is the Texas City complex. If the storm tracks to the NE of the bay, and winds blow offshore, it may avoid flooding. But a leftward wobble could inundate this complex, and take out over 1 MMBBL/day capacity for several months. The big Exxon-Mobil Baytown complex is a bit better protected – the storm will have to take a significant leftward jog to flood it. It looks like Port Arthur area is in for big flooding if the current trends continue, but the refineries are further inland, and if the storm starts moving faster there may not be enough time for the surge to build inland.
30 Day Outage Probabilities (Refinery Capacity):
1 MMBBL: 70%
3 MMBBL: 30%
5 MMBBL: 10%
Links for armchair storm riders:
Six local tv news feeds: http://flhurricane.com/ikecoverage.html
Stormpulse.com Hurricane Ike tracking map
Weather Underground Hurricane Ike page