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If Hurricane Ike had made landfall just fifty miles down the Texas coast, the devastation and death caused by what was already one of the most destructive hurricanes in US history would have quadrupled. Ike made everyone realize just how exposed and vulnerable the Houston-Galveston area is in the face of a major storm. What is done to address this vulnerability will shape the economic, social, and environmental landscape of the region for decades to come.

In Lessons from Hurricane Ike, Philip Bedient and the research team at the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center at Rice University provide an overview of some of the research being done in the Houston-Galveston region in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The center was formed shortly after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Its research examines everything from surge and inland flooding to bridge infrastructure.

Lessons from Hurricane Ike gathers the work of some of the premier researchers in the fields of hurricane prediction and impact, summarizing it in accessible language accompanied by abundant illustrations—not just graphs and charts, but dramatic photos and informative maps. Orienting readers to the history and basic meteorology of severe storms along the coast, the book then revisits the impact of Hurricane Ike and discusses what scientists and engineers are studying as they look at flooding, storm surges, communications, emergency response, evacuation planning, transportation issues, coastal resiliency, and the future sustainability of the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603445887
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 05/16/2012
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,195,469
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Philip Bedient is Herman Brown Professor of Engineering at Rice University, where he also directs the SSPEED Center, a multi-university–based research and education institute. Specializing in surface and groundwater hydrology and flood prediction systems, he has written more than 180 articles and is co-author of two textbooks (on hydrology and floodplain analysis and on groundwater contamination). He received his PhD in environmental engineering sciences from the University of Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Lessons from Hurricane Ike

By Philip B. Bedient

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2012 Texas A&M University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-736-2


An Introduction to Gulf Coast Severe Storms and Hurricanes

Philip B. Bedient and Antonia Sebastian


As populations move toward coastal regions in ever increasing numbers, the impacts and associated costs of severe storms on coastal counties increase exponentially. A severe storm is usually considered to be a tropical storm or hurricane, but may also be a severely damaging hail storm, tornado or thunderstorm (Doswell 1978). Each summer, a number of these storms enter the Gulf of Mexico and gain intensity as they hover over its warm waters (fig. 1.1). These storms have the potential to claim hundreds of lives and inflict tens of billions of dollars in damages. The recovery times in impacted areas vary significantly depending on the severity and location of the storm. In some cases, several years are required for infrastructure to fully recover from a severe storm or hurricane.

In 2008, 87 million people were living in US coastal counties, an 84 percent increase from 1960. The Gulf Coast region stretches from the southern tip of Florida to the southern tip of Texas, encompassing 56 counties and more than 5.8 million housing units (Wilson 2010). The region is home to over 15 million inhabitants and is among the most vulnerable areas to severe storms and hurricanes in the United States. In addition, the two largest petrochemical facilities in the world, the two largest refining areas in the United States, and over 4000 oil rig structures are located in this region. In order to fully comprehend and accurately analyze the risks presently faced by the Gulf Coast, an understanding of the mechanics and history of severe storms in the region is necessary, and is covered in detail in this introduction.

Tropical Cyclone Development

North Atlantic tropical cyclones form off the coast of West Africa, over the tropical oceans between 5 and 20 degrees north or south latitude, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Traveling westward, tropical cyclones may make landfall along the coast of the eastern United States, Caribbean, and Central America (fig. 1.2). Those that make landfall in the Caribbean or over southern Florida often have enough strength to cross land and enter the Gulf of Mexico. Despite being severely weakened, these storms can strengthen across the Gulf of Mexico. The warm waters, high humidity, and low wind shear present in the Gulf during summer allow hurricanes to rebuild and gain strength, leaving coastal counties at a great risk for hurricane landfall.

With extreme amounts of rainfall and winds that can exceed 186 mph, these storms are among the most destructive on earth (Bedientetal. 2008). Severe tropical cyclones have different names depending upon their location (i.e. typhoon, cyclone, baguio); the North American term, used in this discussion, is hurricane. Hurricanes require water temperatures of greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit at depths up to 50 meters below the surface and warm and moisture-laden air, which possesses an enormous capacity for heat energy. Under these conditions, the condensation from vapor to water sustains hurricane development. An in-depth discussion of the components and mechanics of hurricane formation can be found in Chapter 3.

Tropical Storms

Each year, tropical storms (wind speeds 39–73 mph) wreak major damage on coastal communities. Slower wind speeds reduce the risk of damage caused by storm surge and tornados, but increase the risk of flooding because these storms typically have slower forward movement. The most famous tropical storm to make landfall on the Gulf Coast was Tropical Storm Allison. Allison made landfall on the afternoon of June 5, 2001 in Freeport, Texas. The storm quickly weakened into a tropical depression, but continued circulating over the Houston/Galveston Area for four days, dumping incredible amounts of rainfall on downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center. Much of the area received more than 24 inches of rain in nine hours and flooding from the storm caused 41 deaths and more than $5 billion in damages. In parts of downtown Houston and at the Texas Medical Center, three major facilities sustained $300–$400 million in damages each, and suffered power outages during the event.

Although much of the region was unprepared for the event and unaware of their flood risk, the Texas Medical Center had a flood warning system in place. The Rice/TMC Flood Alert (FAS) System developed in 1997 was successful during Tropical Storm Allison, providing advanced warnings for TMC and allowing for some facilities (especially Texas Children's Hospital) to lock down before the event. Tropical Storm Allison and the FAS System are further discussed in Chapter 4.

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) conducted a joint hydrologic study. The goal of the Tropical Storm Allison Recovery Project (TSARP) was to produce more accurate Flood Insurance Rate Maps and delineate flood hazard areas ( This can help assist local recovery and prepare for future events by identifying areas of high risk of flooding and educating the community. To date, Tropical Storm Allison is the costliest and deadliest tropical storm to make landfall in the United States.

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

In 1900, the deadliest storm to ever make landfall in the United States destroyed Galveston Island. More than 8000 people died, 8–15 feet of water covered the island, and damages amounted to $30 million (not adjusted for inflation). This storm changed not only the history of the island, but the economy and population of Texas, because most of the shipping activity was moved to the Port of Houston after the event.

After the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the city made a decision to protect itself from severe storm surge that is often associated with hurricanes. Storm surge is the volume of water pushed ahead of a tropical cyclone as it makes landfall. In one of the greatest engineering feats of its time, Galveston raised the elevation of the entire city, block by block, a project that was completed in 1910. In addition, a 17-foot high, 27-foot wide, and 3-mile long granite boulder seawall was erected along the southern coastline to shield downtown Galveston (fig. 1.3). This landmark was later expanded to 10 miles long in 1962. The hard work and capital that went into building the seawall and raising the city, though extensive, proved worthwhile. The city was able to successfully withstand landfalling hurricanes in 1915, 1932, 1949, 1983, and most recently, in 2008 with the arrival of Hurricane Ike.

The City of Houston began to experience rapid economic growth after the discovery of oil in 1901 at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas and many Galveston citizens were motivated to migrate northward after the storm. Once the Houston Ship Channel was dredged in 1909, Galveston lost all hope of reestablishing itself as the premier commercial port on the western Gulf and evolved into a popular beach resort for Texas and much of the central United States.

The track of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 contributed to the development of strong winds and high storm surge. The hurricane developed into a tropical storm in the central Atlantic, remaining at tropical storm strength until after it entered the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the shallow, warm waters and the atmospheric conditions were favorable for further development. The storm upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane (wind speeds 111–130 mph) by the time it reached the central Gulf. The bathymetry near Galveston helped to exacerbate surge, severely inundating coastal communities. Storm surge, in particular, contributed to the large death toll during the storm of 1900. Hurricane Ike took an eerily similar path to that of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and likewise featured devastating storm surge (fig. 1.4).

Florida Hurricanes

Between 1950 and 1990, the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic varied from 3 to 12 per year, followed by the 1990s during which there was an increase in hurricane activity in the North Atlantic Basin relative to both frequency and intensity of named storms. In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall along the southeastern Florida coast with sustained wind speeds as high as 167 mph (Rappaport 2005b), making it a Category 5. Andrew broke hurricane records with a minimum central pressure of 922 millibar measured just before landfall, the third lowest pressure measured for an Atlantic hurricane at that time. In Florida, Hurricane Andrew caused a 23-foot storm surge, 23 deaths, and $26.5 billion in damages,making it the costliest hurricane to make landfall in the United States during the twentieth century (Rappaport 2005b). The frequency of severe storm events continued to increase after 1992 in the United States and Caribbean Islands and overall hurricane activity doubled between 1995 and 2001 as compared to the previous 23 years (1971–94).

The numbers of Category 4 and 5 storms between 1990 and 2004 also doubled in comparison with the preceding 15 years, and in 2004 some of the most costly hurricanes made landfall in the United States. Four major hurricanes made landfall in Florida in 2004: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. In August, Hurricane Charley made landfall in Fort Myers, Florida, with wind speeds of 150 mph (Pasch et al. 2005) and was classified as a Category 4 hurricane. In the United States, Charley left ten dead and $15 billion in damages, making it the second costliest hurricane at the time. In September, Hurricane Ivan made landfall in Alabama as a Category 3, causing heavy rain and tornadoes before moving back out over the Atlantic, crossing south Florida and making landfall a second time along the Gulf Coast as a tropical depression. Ivan caused storm surge and heavy rain across 15 states, killing 25 in the United States, and leaving $14.2 billion in damages (Stewart 2005).

The trend of damaging and deadly storms continued into the 2005 hurricane season and for the first time in history, two Category 5 hurricanes entered the Gulf of Mexico during the same season. During August and September, hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. These two hurricanes were unprecedented in recent US history. Hurricane Katrina caused intense storm surge across state lines and breached the levees protecting New Orleans, Louisiana, destroying the city. Hurricane Rita, despite making landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border, a relatively unpopulated region, resulted in thousands of panicked Gulf Coast residents stranded along Texas highways. Tables 1.1 and 1.2 summarize hurricane statistics by depths and damages since 1900.

Hurricane Katrina

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm just east of New Orleans, Louisiana. Katrina caused 1833 deaths and resulted in $81 billion in damages making it the third deadliest and the costliest storm to make landfall in the United States (Knabb et al. 2006a). Katrina had wind speeds of 127 mph at landfall and also set other records, such as the third lowest central pressure at landfall (920 millibar) and the sixth lowest central pressure on record (902 millibar). However, the most notable legacy Hurricane Katrina left in its wake was the destruction of the levee system surrounding New Orleans and the devastation and flooding that ensued. Many New Orleans residents never returned after the storm and the city suffered significant population loss.

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina developed as a tropical depression near the Bahamas and on August 25, Katrina made landfall at the southern coast of Florida as a weak hurricane. Katrina then began gaining strength as it entered the Gulf of Mexico. On August 28, Katrina reached its maximum strength as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 173 mph (fig. 1.5). One day later, on August 29, Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

New Orleans lies 6–20 feet below sea level. The city is surrounded by a series of levees protecting it from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, both of which empty into the Gulf of Mexico (fig. 1.6). On August 28, 2005 one day before making landfall, Katrina was forecasted to cause storm surge as high as 28 feet, breaching even the highest levee in New Orleans. City and federal officials feared the worst and ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city.

These fears were confirmed when 53 levees were breached and the 40 Arpent Canal Levee failed as Katrina made landfall. Approximately 131 billion gallons of water flowed into the City of New Orleans with nowhere to go (fig. 1.7). The water eventually subsided, with the help of sandbag damming and pumping efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers (fig. 1.8). Despite these efforts, the city of New Orleans would be forever changed, most of its homes washed away with the surge. Countless people evacuated to nearby parishes and states, and schools across the United States opened their doors to students from New Orleans and other affected areas (fig. 1.9). Many families were forced to stay out of New Orleans and parts of Louisiana for months after the storm and many never returned.

Hurricane Katrina illustrated the degree of social disruption that could occur as a result of a hurricane. It served to accentuate the vulnerability of certain Gulf Coast communities, a point that would be underscored just three weeks later when Hurricane Rita headed toward Texas (Bedient et al. 2008).

Hurricane Rita

On September 23, 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 3 storm. Another record breaking storm, Hurricane Rita had the fourth lowest central pressure on record (895 millibar) (Knabb et al. 2006b), replacing Hurricane Katrina. With much of the Gulf Coast region still reeling after Katrina, Hurricane Rita triggered the largest urban evacuation in US history. More than 2.5 million people left the Houston/Galveston Area in a 48-hour period. On September 22, one day before landfall, evacuation contra-flow lanes were opened on I-45 from Houston towards Dallas, on I-10 from Houston towards San Antonio, and on Highway 290 from Houston towards Austin. Trips between cities that normally take just a few hours ranged from 10 to 36 hours and had Rita made landfall further south, many would not have reached their destination in time.

Hurricane Rita began developing as a tropical depression east of the island of Grand Turk on September 17, 2005. Upon entering the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Rita gained strength and began intensifying until, on September 21, Rita reached Category 5 status with wind speeds of 159 mph. Only 6 hours later, Hurricane Rita reached its maximum intensity with 180 mph sustained winds and a minimum pressure of 895 millibar. On September 23, Hurricane Rita made landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas and Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana as a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and a minimum central pressure of 897 millibar.

Although Hurricane Rita made landfall in a rural area, flooding caused seven deaths and damages amounting to $10 billion. Nine counties in the Beaumont/Port Arthur region were declared disaster areas by Governor Rick Perry. While unfortunate and certainly not insignificant, the damage attributed to Rita would have been much worse had it made landfall in the Houston/Galveston Area. However, as Rita barreled across the Gulf of Mexico intense panic ensued across Gulf Coast region and quickly the highways were packed (fig. 1.10). The highways heading toward Dallas, Austin and San Antonio were at a standstill; many ran out gas and some even died of heat exhaustion.

The initial forecasted path of Rita towards Houston and the recentness of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, left Texas Gulf Coast residents feeling extremely vulnerable. However, the area was ill-prepared for the panic that occurred. Because of this, Hurricane Rita is one of the most memorable hurricanes in recent history, well-known for the intense panic and disorganization that it caused across the area. For politicians and public policy, Hurricane Rita stood as a glaring example of a failure in preparedness. Since Rita, the area has taken gigantic steps towards disaster preparedness and against the "Rita effect," the havoc that ensued in the wake of the storm.


Excerpted from Lessons from Hurricane Ike by Philip B. Bedient. Copyright © 2012 Texas A&M University Press. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 An Introduction to Gulf Coast Severe Storms and Hurricanes Philip B. Bedient and Antonia Sebastian,
2 Hurricane Ike Philip B. Bedient and Antonia Sebastian,
3 A Brief Introduction to the Meteorology of Tropical Cyclones Jeffrey Lindner,
4 Flood Prediction and Flood Warning Systems Jeffrey Lindner, David C. Schwertz, Philip B. Bedient, and Nick Fang,
5 Predicting Storm Surge lint Dawson and Jennifer Proft,
6 Using Social Vulnerability Mapping to Enhance Coastal Community Resiliency in Texas Walter Gillis Peacock, Shannon Van Zandt, Dustin Henry, Himanshu Grover, and Wesley Highfield,
7 Emergency Management and the Public Bill Wheeler,
8 Emergency Evacuation and Transportation Planning Carol Abel Lewis,
9 Lessons in Bridge Infrastructure Vulnerability Jamie E. Padgett and Matthew Stearns,
10 Hurricane Impacts on Critical Infrastructures Hanadi S. Rifai,
11 Land-Use Change and Increased Vulnerability Samuel David Brody,
12 Steps to the Future Jim Blackburn, Thomas Colbert, and Kevin Shanley,

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Lessons from Hurricane Ike 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
MaurineLee More than 1 year ago
Very informative, easily understood my any layman living in the Texas Gulf Coast area. Based on years of sound science and research, it is a must read for builders and city officials making land use decisions. It presents alternative engineering proposals backed up with clear figures and current photos. A guideline for the future.