Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:54 PM GMT on September 15, 2008
Ike caused plenty of trouble Sunday over the Midwest. High winds near Cincinnati killed one person and caused about 1.3 million people to lose power in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. A Delta Airlines hangar at the Cincinnati airport lost its roof, and the airport control tower had to be evacuated. Flooding and high winds in Missouri and Illinois caused at least two storm-related deaths. Ike surprised Louisville, Kentucky, with sustained winds of 40 mph with a gust to hurricane force, 75 mph, at 1:56 pm CDT. Ike swept into western New York early this morning, knocking out power to 45,000 people and doing about $100 million in damage.
Part of the destruction wrought in the Midwest and Northeast was also due to the remnants of Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Lowell. Lowell hit Mexico's Baja Peninsula earlier in the week, and the moisture from the storm flowed northeastward up the axis of a cold front sweeping across the U.S. This same cold front also absorbed Ike. Some peak wind gusts observed yesterday from Ike:
Louisville, KY 75 MPH
Covington, KY 74 MPH
Huntingburg, IN 67 MPH
Fort Knox, KY 64 MPH
Owensboro, KY 63 MPH
Walnut Ridge, AR 62 MPH
Popular Bluff, MO 61 MPH
Cincinnati/Lunkin, OH 61 MPH
Some peak storm rainfall totals for various states, as of 10 PM CDT on Sunday:
Houston, TX: 15.75"
Glenmore, LA: 7.62"
Clinto, AR: 8.93"
Maize, KS: 11.44:
Fairview, KS: 11.83"
Oakland Mills, IA: 7.60"
Peotone, IL: 10.40"
Portage, IN: 11.46"
South Haven, MI: 6.68"
Mill Creek, OH: 7.08"
Murrysville, PA: 5.41"
Genoa City, WI: 3.25"
Falls City, NE: 3.39"
Figure 1. Total radar-estimated precipitation from Ike.
Chicago gets hammered by Lowell's remnants
O'Hare airport in Chicago broke its 20-year old 24-hour rainfall record Saturday, when 6.81" fell. The heavy rain triggered the worst flooding on record for the Des Plaines River in Chicago's western suburbs. The heavy rain was due to a cold front that was packed with moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lowell.
In its wake, Ike has left a Texas-sized disaster. AIR Worldwide, Inc, is estimating that total insured damage in Texas and Louisiana will be $10 billion. An additional $1 billion in damage was likely done in the Gulf of Mexico, due to wind and wave damage to oil platforms and the indirect loss of revenue attributable to reductions in oil and gas production. Using the usual rule of thumb that total hurricane damages are double the insured damages, the price tag for Ike will be about $22 billion. That would make Ike the third costliest hurricane in history. Only Hurricane Katrina of 2005 and Hurricane Andrew of 1992 did more damage than Ike has. AIR has not yet factored in the damage done to the Midwest on Sunday. Other risk-modeling insurance firms are estimating the total on-shore insured property damage will range between $6 billion and $18 billion. These estimates place Ike somewhere between the sixth and second most destructive hurricane on record.
The media is focusing primarily on two main areas in this massive disaster--the destruction in Galveston, and the plight of millions living in Houston and its suburbs. I'd like to call attention to two hard-hit areas mostly ignored by the media--the Bolivar Peninsula just northeast of Galveston, and coastal Louisiana.
The Bolivar Peninsula
If you take a ferry from Galveston northeast across the Galveston Bay inlet, you arrive at the small town of Port Bolivar, which sits at the end of the 25 mile-long Bolivar Peninsula. Since the peninsula was situated on the right front side of Ike's eye, it took the worst of the storm. The Hurricane Hunters measured 110 mph winds at the shore when Ike made landfall, and Ike's highest storm surge hit the peninsula. The exact height of the storm surge is unknown, since there were no tide gauges there. Based on reports of a storm surge of 11 feet at Galveston Island and 13.5 feet at the Louisiana/Texas border, it is likely that storm surge heights along the Bolivar Peninsula were 15 feet or higher. Photos taken by the Coast Guard yesterday (Figure 2) of the Bolivar Peninsula show damage characteristic of a 15+ foot high storm surge--homes washed off their foundations and completely destroyed. The hurricane probably cut new channels through the peninsula, and it will be difficult for rescuers to reach the area.
Figure 2. Coast Guard photo of the Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike. All the houses along this section were washed off their foundations by the storm surge and destroyed. Image credit: bolivar.org.
Some have criticized the National Weather Service for overwarning, with their pronouncement of "certain death" for those who ignored evacuation orders. Well, I don't think anyone in the Bolivar Peninsula will complain that they were overwarned. While death was not certain among those who weathered the storm in houses pulverized by the storm surge, it was probable. According to the New York Times, one Bolivar Peninsula resident was washed all the way across across Galveston Bay to the mainland after the storm surge destroyed his house and threw him into the water. A helicopter picked him up. So far, there are three confirmed deaths on the peninsula, from the town of Port Bolivar. The peninsula had a population of 3,800, of which 500 did not evacuate. As many as 90 people were rescued from the peninsula in the hours leading up to the storm, but at least 400 people remained. Most of these people are as yet unaccounted for. According to news reports, 80% of the buildings on the peninsula were destroyed.
The moral: we don't know precisely where a hurricane will hit, which necessitates dire warnings for portions of the coast that will not receive the worst of the storm. The worst of a hurricane affects only a relatively narrow portion of the coast. And the worst of Hurricane Ike--the third most damaging hurricane of all time--was very, very bad indeed.
Hurricane Ike hit Louisiana very hard. The entire coast of Louisiana from Grand Isle at the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Texas border received a storm surge between 5 and 13 feet. In many cases, such as in Lake Charles, the flood heights were higher than those of Hurricane Rita in 2005. Terrebonne Parish in central Louisiana, which took a direct hit from Gustav but did not get flooded by that storm, got a 5-8 foot storm surge from Ike. The surge flooded over 13,000 homes and killed at least two people in the parish.
The tropics are quiet
Today, for the first time since August 15, we do not have a named storm in the Atlantic. The remains of Josephine are completely gone, so we will not have a seventh consecutive named storm hit the U.S. The landfall of Ike on Saturday set a new record, giving us strikes by six consecutive named storms. Five was the previous record, set most recently in 2004.
An area of disturbed weather (92L), 600 miled east of the northernmost Lesser Antilles Islands, has changed little in the past 24 hours. This disturbance is under about 25 knots of wind shear, and is suffering from dry air to its west. NHC is giving this system a low (<20% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Wednesday. Wind shear is expected to remain high, above 20 knots, for the next three days. By Thursday, if 92L finds itself farther south than expected--near the Bahama Islands--shear may drop enough to allow development to occur. We should keep an eye on this one, if it does stay to the south.
Elsewhere, the GFS model is forecasting development of a tropical depression off the coast of Africa seven days from now.
I'll discuss the long-term outlook for the coming two weeks in a blog entry on Tuesday.
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