[Update 12:00A MDT]:
Hurricane Ike is making landfall at Galveston. The seawall there is expected to have been topped and the city flooded. Hurricane Ike’s second spiral band is now passing through Houston, 50 miles to Galveston’s northwest. A heavy burst of convection has recently generated to the north of Ike’s center as his bands begin to rapidly spiral toward the surface low. Ike’s eye was measured at one point to be an astounding 49 miles across. Beyond being numerically impressive, an eye that size presents a real hazard to Gulf coast residents. After the leading edge passes over one point, it could be one to three hours before the other side passes over the same point with hurricane force winds.
[Update 9:45P MDT]:
We’re down to the final few hours prior to Hurricane Ike’s landfall. There have been some important, last-hour changes to Ike that I’ll discuss below. Let’s start with his vitals tonight:
Center located at 28.6N, 94.4W; maximum sustained surface winds of 110mph (1mph less than Category 3 strength); moving NW @ 12mph; minimum surface pressure of 952mb (still very low for a Category 2 storm).
The center of Hurricane Ike is about 50 miles from shore at this time. As he has approached the coast, radar imagery has helped show that Ike’s eye is finally becoming more pronounced. Recent radar loops have shown small, mesoscale vortices traveling around the interior of Ike’s eye-wall. Seeing them on satellite is one thing; seeing them on radar is pretty impressive.
The NHC is also pointing out that winds above the surface are reaching Category 4 strength: at levels a few hundred feet above the surface, winds are screaming at 130mph. A few things should be noted here: Ike’s official category is based off surface wind speeds, surface winds are very typically slower than those found just a short distance further up due to friction, and those higher wind speeds aloft will cause a lot of damage to high-rises in the Houston area, which is already in the hurricane force wind region.
At this point, it looks like Ike’s center will pass directly over Galveston and just to the east of Houston proper. Ike’s wind field remains very, very impressive in scope. Most of Louisiana and a good portion of southeastern Texas is within Ike’s tropical storm force wind field. Areas between Freeport, TX and Lake Charles, LA are in the hurricane force wind field. A huge region to the center’s east and south are still experiencing hurricane and tropical storm force winds.
That wind field has already caused a 10 foot rise in water along the Gulf coast. One thing working against Galveston and Houston is high tide, which will occur at about 1A CDT, just as Ike is coming ashore. The total storm surge numbers will be impressive to note post-event.
One silver lining to this storm is the current relative lack of convection to the north of Ike’s center. A large convective band is located to the center’s south, but a distinct break between bands can be seen just north of the center. Whether that feature remains in place as Ike makes landfall will be seen. [Update 10:15P]: As I’ve updated this post, the lack of convection north of Ike’s center has slowly gone away as his eye continues to organize. The convective band forming where there was very little just an hour ago isn’t very intense yet, but it looks much more like a textbook hurricane eye-wall.
Ike should continue along his current trajectory until the center is located to Houston’s north, at which time he should begin curving around the strong ridge sitting over the eastern U.S. The upper-level trough that is currently moving across the central U.S. will weaken the ridge in the area of Ike’s path, which will help steer him in a more northerly direction. By the time Ike’s center passes east of Dallas, TX, he should begin moving northeasterly. By Sunday night, Ike should be located over Indiana, on his way to being absorbed and caught up in the westerlies.
Over 1 million people evacuated ahead of Ike’s landfall. Some few hundred thousand refused evacuation orders in the face of the NWS’s warning that they could face imminent death. Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) identified Hurricane Gustav’s relatively weak effects and storm complacency. I’ve got a different opinion: Republicans have spent years convincing Americans that government can’t work. Hurricane Katrina provided stark imagery of how dangerous it is when government doesn’t work. Now Sen. Cornyn expects Texans to acknowledge government authority and advice when the cities of his state face catastrophe? It’s Hurricane Gustav’s fault? How petty and immoral of you, Senator.