When I started this blog back in early 2004, it never occurred to me that hurricanes would end up being a frequent topic.
Then, on August 27, 2005, many folks discovered this little corner of the blogosphere when this post was one of the first to predict the potential for disaster in New Orleans from an approaching Hurricane Katrina. The extraordinary exodus of Gulf Coast residents to Houston followed, along with the impact of that hurricane and others on the U.S. oil and gas industry, and — presto! — before you could blink, hurricane-related issues had become the subject of over 90 posts on this blog.
A few more hurricane-related posts may be on their way over the next several days as Hurricane Ike bears down on the Houston metropolitan area late today and through the morning tomorrow. Houston has not taken a direct hit from a hurricane since Hurricane Alicia ravaged the area in 1983 (the eye of that storm went over my house at the time), so many current residents of the city have not experienced a hurricane. That lack of experience, along with the large number of variables that are in play with regard to any hurricane, leads inevitably to some very poor decision-making.
The reality is that the best course of action for the vast majority of Houstonians is to stay put and ride out a storm of the size and intensity of Hurricane Ike (probably a category 2, maybe a 3). Most of the Houston area is different from New Orleans in that it is farther from the coast and of higher elevation so that the threat of flooding is not as big an issue. Thus, outside of the areas of Houston that are close to the coast and are subject to flooding from the storm surge (primarily Galveston Island, the coastal area of Brazoria County and the areas adjacent to the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay), Houston is mainly subject to damage from the wind during hurricanes.
Although hurricane-force winds over a prolonged period are certainly disconcerting, most reasonably-well constructed houses will endure those winds just fine without much damage. Yes, power may be lost for awhile (some parts of Houston were without power for over a month after Alicia) and there is always the risk of tornadoes cropping up as the hurricane passes through. But staying put allows homeowners to take immediate action to mitigate damage to their homes if damage occurs and avoids the not insubstantial risk of injury involved in getting on the road with hundreds of thousands of mandatory evacuees making their way through Houston to a place where they can ride out the storm.
One thing that everyone should do regardless of whether they stay or evacuate is to make sure that, before the storm hits, all loose items on the outside of the house are secured or placed in a secure location inside the garage or house. In hurricane-force winds, those loose items can become projectiles that can break windows and cause other property damage. That — along with downed trees — is among the most common cause of property damage and injury during hurricanes outside the areas that are subject to coastal flooding.
As noted earlier here, the best information source for hurricanes these days is the Web and the blogosphere. Most of the local TV weather analysts are quite good (I prefer Frank Billingsley at KPRC), although the local television and radio coverage overall is often atrocious. The anchor people and news reporters often do not have enough to talk about and, thus, end up saying and doing absurd things just to generate attention. It is rather entertaining watching some of these folks make fools of themselves.
By the way, speaking of poor decisions, what on earth is the University of Houston doing playing Air Force in Dallas on Saturday afternoon (they were scheduled to play Saturday afternoon on the UH campus)? Not only is it irresponsible for UH officials to suggest that students and other supporters of the program clog one of the main evacuation routes out of Houston to attend the game, the game itself is likely to be played in driving rain and tropical storm-force winds as Ike passes through the Dallas area on Saturday afternoon. I know this is Texas and all, but Is it really that important to play a non-conference football game?
As long as I have access to power, I will be providing Twitter updates from the north suburban side of Houston during the storm. So, feel free to follow my updates by clicking on the hyperlink on the right side of this page.