All the major storms in the Atlantic basin have dissipated. August and September have been very busy and the news has been terrible as far as hurricane-related news goes. Louisiana is still cleaning up from Hurricane Gustav, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Texas and Louisiana are beginning the cleanup from Hurricane Ike, which also wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Islands in the Atlantic are cleaning up from all of the above and more. Cuba, the Bahamas, and Haiti are only a few of the major areas affected by the storms in the Atlantic so far this season. That’s part of the story: the season is a long way from being over. September 10th is the climatological average date of the peak of the season. We might have passed by the hump, but the western Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico still have waters warm enough to support tropical storm development. But for now, things are quiet.
The 4th largest city in America, Houston TX, should remain partially evacuated, according to Texas’ Governor Perry. Galveston’s city officials are telling the 20,000 residents who “braved” the storm to leave the city because Galveston is unsafe and unhealthy. Those that evacuated will not be let back in for the forseeable future. At this point, let me repeat what I wrote above: Hurricane Ike could have been worse. A lot worse. It was a borderline Category 2/3 storm at landfall (I think it was a 3; there were political considerations involved in classifying it as a 2). If Ike hadn’t had to battle the shear that it did, or if the Gulf Loop Current had a larger eddy in the northwest Gulf, Ike would have been a more potent storm. Ike could have made landfall 40 miles further southwest. That would have brought the worst of the storm surge ashore at Galveston and dealt Houston a stronger blow with his winds. But Texas and Louisiana didn’t get all of Ike. Flooding across the nation, including Chicago, IL, was reported. Early estimates of storm damage are in the $10 billion range.
As bad as things are right now and while there’s no doubt there is much work to be done in the short-term, the larger issues of global warming and hurricane frequency and intensity need to remain in the public’s attention. Similarly, the excessive development of our cities and communities along the coast cannot fade into the background of our national discourse. Hurricane Ike will not be the last hurricane to hit the Gulf coast region. How many times do major cities have to be evacuated and rebuilt after hurricanes wreck them? How intelligent is it to continue to base our fuel infrastructure in a region prone to destructive weather events? Why should we continue to disrupt major sectors of our economy due to our choice to develop along coastlines?
And take note: the east coast has remained out of the paths of hurricanes recently. There is just as much development, if not more, along the east coast. At one point, Ike looked as though he would move up the east coast in a similar path that Hanna did, except as a stronger system. What happens when a Category 2 storm hits northern Virginia or New York City or Boston? Where are those millions of people going to evacuate to? How long would recovery efforts take in a wide, densely populated region take? There are many issues that connect to and interact with this subject. I’ll discuss those in the days ahead in posts that take on a more political bent.