I should have started this over the weekend, because a new storm was the source of almost immediate ‘meteo chatter.’
Ophelia passed to my south. Phillippe is out-to-sea where he will cause little harm. Rita is in a bad spot with the promise of intensification.
There’s no doubt, New Orleans is the most vulnerable city for hurricanes in the US – duh. After that, Key West and Galveston are high up on the list. The official track projection for this storm, still a tropical storm and not a hurricane, impacts both cities!
Key West is an island with little land significantly above sea level. It is possible that during a significant hurricane (which Rita probably won’t be at the time) the entire island could briefly disappear as it was overwashed. There wouldn’t be the lasting flooding of New Orleans.
Galveston too is an island and prone to hurricane surges. Isaac’s Storm, the scariest book I’ve ever read, describes Galveston during the 1900 Hurricane. It stands as America’s most deadly natural disaster. Somewhere between 6-12,000 were killed, with most bodies never found.
Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, which the city survived with ease. Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events. In order to provide an official meteorological statement on the threat of hurricanes, Galveston Weather Bureau section director Isaac Cline wrote an 1891 article in the Galveston News in which he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island.
The seawall was not built, and development activities on the island actively increased its vulnerability to storms. Sand dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of Mexico.
Rita isn’t much more than 24 hours from Key West. If the people there are lucky, the storm won’t intensify much, nor will it jog to the north.
Galveston has a bigger question mark. The five day forecast from the Hurricane Center aims squarely at Galveston (for purposes of this entry, let the cone of uncertainty be damned).
If you were living there, what would you do today? The storm is five days away and most likely will find another track before it arrives… or maybe not.