HOUSTON - The Houston/Galveston area is a densely populated metropolitan area that is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes. For all the new folks that have moved to the area and to all those who have forgotten the nightmares of hurricanes Rita and Ike, this is a reminder of how paralyzing a storm can be as hurricane season closes in.
Houston Hurricane History:
The City of Houston was founded in August of 1836. Since that time the city has starred down many hurricanes --- some not long remembered and others that rewrote history.
According to NOAA, 45 tropical storms and hurricanes have hit within 50 miles of Houston since 1863. That averages out to approximately a landfall every 3.4 years over 154 years of history as seen below in the tracks provided by the National Hurricane Center.
Houston/Galveston has been targeted by some of the most notorious storms in history including:
-The Great 1900 Storm: the single deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. 8,000 to as many as 12,000 people were carried away by the wind or the water. This category four hurricane nearly wiped the city of Galveston clean of buildings. The Wall Street of the South was in ruins and would never again regain its prominance.
-Hurricane Carla in 1961. This storm was the last category four hurricane to target the central and upper-Texas coast. The Houston area wouldn't see a graver hurricane threat for another 44 years. The storm was massive and prompted a large evacuation of the entire Texas coast; the largest of its kind up until that time. The eye crossed Matagorda Bay on September 11th, 1961, over a hundred miles down the coast from Galveston. Even still sustained winds in Galveston peaked at 88 mph with a severe storm tide of 10 to 15 feet in Galveston Bay. Further down the coast, winds are estimated to have exceeded 170 mph at Port Lavaca as the wind instruments blew away at 153 mph. 46 people were killed and property damage was estimated around $2.3 billion in 2010 dollars.
-Hurricane Alicia, 1983. This was Texas' fist billion dollar hurricane according to the State of Texas. Alicia is known for it's rapid intensification over the Gulf of Mexico and striking Galveston/Houston as a low end, category three hurricane. It blew out thousands of windows in the downtown skyscrapers, namely the 72-story Wells Fargo Plaza. The hurricane causted $2.6 billion in 1983 dollars. The glass damage is evident by this black and white photo from the NWS seen below:
-In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison formed approximately 60 miles south of Freeport. It moved inland and stalled over Houston dumping as much as 40 inches of rain in northeast Houston. It became the costliest tropical storm on record and the only one to ever have its name retired. It would take Houston years to recover. The tropical storm wiped out decades worth of medical research at the world famous Texas Medical Center and even flooded the KHOU-11 studios along Allen Parkway.
-By September of 2005, the world was still watching the devastation of New Orleans after Katrina blew through a month earlier. Quietly, Hurricane Rita formed east of Florida and powered up into the strongest hurricane on record in the gulf with max winds of 185 mph. With a forecast that would bring the eye of Rita directly over Houston, a mass exodus like nothing ever witnessed began in earnest. Over 3 million people left --- mostly at the same time bringing the highway system to full gridlock. Travel times to Dallas were 36 to 48 hours. Austin was an 18 to 24 hour trip. San Antonio was the same.
Hurricane Rita is often the forgotten hurricane for several reasons. First, it missed Houston to the east. Second, it came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, soon after Rita came Wilma which eclipsed Rita's strength becoming the strongest hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic basin.
Unfortunately Rita had a high death toll for a hurricane ''that wasn't'' in the Houston area. The searing heat of a late September day caused many people to die of hyperthermia. According to the Houston Chronicle, 107 people perished during the evacuation alone; 24 of whom were elderly and died on a bus when it caught fire due to overheated brakes south of Dallas.
Rita obviously is a worst case scenario and one we'll hopefully never have to face again. In the event of another category five hurricane starring down at us, it's important to remember who should evacuate, when and where to go if you are ordered out. More on that later.
-Hurricane Ike, 2008: This hurricane was massive; one of the largest on record. At it's peak size it encompassed nearly the entire gulf. Hurricane Ike made a direct hit on Galveston Island at 2:10 a.m. on September 13th, 2008. In its aftermath it would become the third costliest hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin behind only hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. A lot was learned from previous hurricanes, namely Rita when it came to evacuations. Many residents remembered the snarl and panic across the city in 2005 and many chose to stay at home to ride it out.
Ike was the strongest hurricane to directly impact Houston/Galveston since Alicia in 1983. It will be remembered for its destruction of Murdoch's, Balinese Room and the Flag Ship Hotel, all three located in front of the seawall and of course the amount of glass damage in downtown Houston.
If you're one of the 140,000+ people that move to the area every year, I've just illustrated above that we are in a very hurricane prone area. It is at your own peril that you ignore the warnings of meteorologists and city officials if told to leave.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the average return time for a hurricane is nine years for the upper Texas coast. Ironically enough it's been nine years since the upper-Texas coast was hit by a hurricane.
In the event of a hurricane, the best thing to do is leave if you're in an evacuation zone. Listen to your local officials. It's important to understand that 911 service will not be available during the hurricane. Once 40 mph winds move in, you're on your own. Coastal areas will observe the highest winds and the biggest water rise. In a worst case scenario, these areas could face total devastation.
As we saw with Ike and Rita, many people in the inland counties, including western and northern Harris county, evacuated because they didn't want to be without electricity for a month. Unless your home is in danger of flooding from heavy rainfall, the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service urges you to stay put. Let the coastal residents have access to the freeways first. If conditions warrant, the state will open contraflow lanes to all outbound traffic to alleviate the stress on the roadways. Even then, it's advised that you remain in place.
As somebody who was here for Hurricane Ike up in The Woodlands, I will attest to the fact that yes, it was scary. There was damage everywhere. It even destroyed the pavilion. However, all the homes stood soundly. The biggest threat for inland areas whether it be Katy, Kingwood, Cypress, Tomball or Conroe is flooding rains, falling trees and powerlines and flying debris. If your home is not going to flood then stay put.
If you've already decided that you're going to leave no matter what, then do so --- but do it after the hurricane has passed in what is called a post-evacuation.
Of course the weather is quiet now but in the event of a hurricane, stay tuned to Channel 11 for the very latest on the developing situation. David, Brooks, Chita and I will make sure you stay ahead of the storm and as safe as possible. You'll know when we know.
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