Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ike's Targeting Houston

It's been 25 years since the last Category 3 or above storm blasted the Houston area. With memories of Hurricane Alicia fresh in my mind I've been concerned ever since Ike finished beating up on Cuba and reemerged in the Gulf of Mexico.

I checked in with my family and so far, they are okay, but I am a little worried. They were caught in the massive traffic jam on I-45 north trying to get to our relatives in Dallas during the botched 2005 Hurricane Rita evacuation, which brewed up as a Cat 5 storm only three weeks after Katrina waylaid New Orleans.

It took them 17 hours to drive the 100 miles north to Huntsville, a normally 2 hour trip on I-45 and rode the storm out there until it slid further east, weakened and made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border. This time they're taking a wait and see attitude and staying put.

Most of my relatives live on the south and west sides of Houston, and they'll be first up to feel the effects of Ike's rain and wind bands as it draws inexorably closer to the area.

I knew it was a matter of time before Houston's luck ran out and with this storm, it looks like it's about to replicate the conditions of Alicia's San Luis Pass landfall. It's still over 300 miles away from Galveston as I write this, but its predicted 15-22 foot storm surge is already being felt along most of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

As a long time Gulf Coast resident until 2001, I and anyone who lives there takes hurricanes seriously. I've ridden out two Cat 3 storms, Betsy and Alicia. After Alicia's August 18, 1983 landfall, I noted the devastation it caused to many downtown skyscrapers thanks to loose roofing gravel and the varying levels of wind damage some neighborhoods took. I made it clear to friends and relatives that if a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane were approaching the area, I was boarding up the apartment windows and heading up I-45 north.

Those of us who grew up in the Houston area know all too well the story of the 1900 storm that almost obliterated Galveston when it made landfall on September 8.

It killed 6000 people in Galveston alone and still ranks as the worst natural disaster to ever strike the United States. It also altered the course of Texas history by putting Houston on the path to becoming the dominant city not only in the region but the state as well.

This storm is large, almost 700 miles across. It got weakened to a Cat 2 after traveling the length of Cuba, but could possibly be a low Category 3 storm by the time it makes landfall later tomorrow.

Even if Ike does make landfall further south along the Texas coast, Houston will get some of the effects before it moves further inland.

It's also going to affect you at the gas pump. Once again you have a hurricane traveling through an area where you have oil rigs drilling away. In addition to that problem, in the Houston-Galveston Southeast Texas area alone are 26 oil refineries. One fifth of the oil refining capacity in the United States is concentrated between Houston and New Orleans. If you do the drive along I-10 you will pass numerous refineries between Houston and Lake Charles.

You readers may not experience the winds or wrath of Ike, but you will feel it in your pocket at the gas pump.

Ironically after it makes landfall Ike's projected path takes it all the way up here to Kentucky. Even being 1000 miles away from the Gulf Coast doesn't keep me from experiencing tropical storms or their effects.


shakay said...

Posted 09/12 @ 3:45pm MDT:

I just heard from a friend in North Carolina who stopped for gasoline, and the cost of a gallon of gasoline as increased by 50 cents a gallon since yesterday.

Monica Roberts said...

It shot up to $3.99 a gallon here and may go higher depending on how much damage Ike does to the 26 refineries in the area.