Jeffs713's Tomball & Tropical Weather

The Legacy of Hurricane Ike

By: jeffs713, 2:39 AM GMT on June 08, 2009

Hurricane Ike, while not a "catastrophically powerful" storm, was a very powerful storm in its own regard, and left an incredible mark upon all aspects of the upper Texas coast. It impacted the land, it impacted things we had built, and it impacted human lives. It left a mark that may fade with time, but will never be forgotten.

The Storm
Ike was a powerful Category 2 hurricane, with winds at landfall of 110 mph. Ike had reached a maximum strength while in the central Atlantic, attaining Category 4 strength with sustained winds of 145 mph. Ike was an unpredictable storm from the start. It wallowed in Tropical Storm strength for 2 full days, from September 1 to September 3. At approximately 0900hr GMT on September 3rd, Ike pulled his first trick out of his hat. In 24 hours, he bombed from a 65mph TS with a 996mb central pressure to a Category 4 hurricane with max winds of 145 mph, and a central pressure of 935mb. Ike had a few more tricks, though.

Soon after reaching Category 4 strength, Ike battled off persistent shear for the next 2 days, never dipping below Category 2 strength. During this time, Ike also took an unusual route for an Atlantic basin storm, actually moving west-southwest. Ike impacted the Turks and Caicos Islands with howling winds of 135 mph on September 7th, and continued on this path, straight towards Cuba (which was battered by Hurricane Gustav just 2 weeks earlier). After making initial landfall on the eastern end of Cuba, Ike hugged Cuba's southern coast, and made a second landfall as a minimal Category 1 storm.

Upon emerging into the Gulf of Mexico, Ike used one of his other "tricks", ballooning to a truly massive storm, at one point stretching over 900 miles across (citation). During this same time, Ike's top winds barely creeped up, partially due to Ike's massive wind field (larger wind field means more energy is needed to accelerate it). Right before landfall, Ike "woke up", and formed a new eye wall within its old, large one (actually using some of the old one), and picked up enough wind speed to reach 110mph upon windfall in Galveston, TX.

Due to his huge size, Ike had 2 tricks left. First, his massive size pushed an incredible storm surge inland, stretching from Pensacola, FL all the way down to Matagorda Bay down the Texas Coast. Also, this storm surge was by no means "normal sized", as it was equal to a Category 3 or 4 storm in its sheer size and depth. In addition to this, Ike took a while to spin down. Sustained hurricane force winds were felt over 75 miles inland, and Ike even left destruction as far away as Ohio, as he recurved out to the North Atlanic.

Ike's Effects on the Land
The first impact was the obvious one, and rather over-hyped one... the wind. Ike knocked out power to over 2.6 million people (citation), and also downed an impossible-to-estimate number of trees across a huge portion of southeast Texas. The second impact wasn't quite as hyped, and this particular one really hit home this past weekend, when I took a trip to Nederland (near Port Arthur).

Ike's storm surge was, in a word, immense. Ike pushed water miles inland, doing everything ranging from flooding entire cities (click here for some pictures of Bridge City, Texas), to wiping entire towns off the map, to flooding entire sections of land, poisoning the trees with saltwater. This last one was one impact that I noticed immediately upon driving back to Houston, after visiting Nederland, TX. While driving back on Texas 73 (10-15 miles inland), I kept on noticing that nearly every single tree on the roadside was dead. Not just leafless. Dead. Mile after mile of completely dead trees on the side of the road, with only the occasional tree to break the monotony. Only after seeing a section of trees all bent (and broken) towards the north did I realize what caused this. Ike's winds bent and broke the trees, facing the north (with this area on the eastern side of the storm's landfall, all winds would be from the south and southeast). Ike's surge pushed saltwater miles inland, poisoning the soil with lethal amounts of salt. And I saw this while over 12 miles inland.

Ike's effects on structures
Ike's wind, and more importantly, his storm surge, left a huge scar on the landscape, merely damaging some structures, while completely erasing others from existence.

In some areas, such as Bridge City and Galveston, Ike didn't so much as destroy structures, but rather damaged them so severely that they may as well have been leveled. Thousands of people were made homeless in one night, with many of them "losing all they had" to water damage.

In other areas, Ike wasn't content with just damaging. His surge destroyed. By destroyed, I don't mean just tore apart like a moderate tornado will do. I mean "erase from existence". Gilchrist, Texas, is an example of this. Gilchrist was situated on the narrowest section of the Bolivar Peninsula, east of Galveston Island. As the peninsula acts as a barrier island (it is between the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay), it was nearly completely overwashed by the surge. The area Gilchrist was in is unique, in that it was a "weak point" for the storm surge. After the surge rushed through the gap upon Ike's impact... it rushed back out in the opposite direction once Ike passed. This dual action left this behind:

(photo courtesy of dvorak.org)


(photo courtesy of texascoastgeology.org)

Ike's Impacts on People
Ike also left an indelible mark on many lives. A true count of lives impacted by Ike can never be completed, due to the variety of ways people had been impacted (and will continue to be impacted).

Hurricane Ike, in one night:
- Destroyed entire families belongings, leaving them with literally just the shirts on their backs.
- Forced families to relocate, due to irreparable damage to their homes.
- At least 103 people died due to Ike, with bodies still being discovered due to Ike.
- Terrorized thousands of people with 12 to 18 hours of howling winds, horizontal rain, and the lasting fear of destruction. Many still have dreams about that harrowing night.

With the Bad, Comes the Good
Ike's impact wasn't all negative. Ike created such chaos that the storm also forged bonds that will never be broken, made heroes out of everyday people, and propelled everyday people to show their generous side.

Heroes
Hurricane Ike made heroes out of everyday people. From the flight nurse that left her family to help rescue people, to the stranger that rescued a family from a roof with his boat, to the legion of volunteers that descended upon the region... heroes were made.
The Houston Chronicle's page about the heroes of Hurricane Ike

A "Perfect Storm" of Generosity
Hurricane Ike also led many people to give an outpouring of support and generosity, the likes of which had not been seen since the 2005 aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Cities hundreds of miles away opened their doors to evacuees. Hundreds of truckloads of donated food, water, and supplies descended upon the region mere hours after the storm struck. An incredible amount of money was donated to help support the relief efforts. Even the blogging community got involved.

Several of our own WU bloggers (we know them as Patrap, Presslord, and StormJunkie) joined up, and led the charge of assisting in the relief efforts. It was started as a "one-off" truckload of supplies... and ended up being 5 truckloads of relief supplies, a pizza party for relief workers, and a big Christmas party for the children of Bridge City. (the same Bridge City that was completely underwater after Ike - the kids lost nearly everything) As part of this relief effort, Portlight Strategies, the charitable organization behind all of this, has transformed into a small non-profit group for helping those most in need to an organization with a wealth of experience and muscle able to step in at the first sight of a disaster.

Bonds That Can't Be Broken
And finally, the bonds that Hurricane Ike formed. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, nearly everyone in the Houston area was without power. As many of you know (and as I found out), when the power is out for more than a day... there isn't a lot to do. No TV, no radio (other than your weather radio), no light for reading a book (except your flashlight). It gets boring quick. But Ike forced a rather unusual change in people, that I found very heartening. When without power, neighbors didn't hide in their houses like most people would expect in today's day and age. They did something that they hadn't done in a long time. They talked. They went outside, and met their neighbors again. They sat down on the street and their driveways, and chat with their newfound friends that live next door. They shared the slowly defrosting meals in their freezer, so nothing went to waste. They ate steaks cooked on the grill with lukewarm sodas and bags of chips... and had a great time. In the wake of the destruction that Ike left they were still able to go to bed with a smile, warmed by the conversations with their neighbors they hardly knew a week ago.

----
Hurricane Ike was a storm for the ages. Ike set records (largest storm in the Atlantic Ocean basin), and literally blew away preconceptions about storms (the huge storm surge). There are still people that have bone-chilling flashbacks every time a gusty thunderstorm blows through (I am one of those). There are millions that can recall exactly where they were on one night in September of 2008. But there are also many who choose to remember the good things that Ike did. Hurricane Ike taught some lessons. Hurricane Ike showed that people, when prompted by nature, can still be very giving in these tough times. Hurricane Ike showed that in the midst of terrible adversity, the human spirit and community will find ways to not just survive... but thrive.

The Houston Chronicle's special page about Hurricane Ike








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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Jeffs713's Tomball & Tropical Weather

About jeffs713

I live near Tomball, Texas (30 miles NW of Houston), and will write about whatever comes to mind. You've been warned.