Hurricane Ian is forecasters’ “nightmare storm” for Houston

As Florida falls under the spell of Tropical Storm Ian’s devastation, the same type of storm could devastate Houston, potentially with no hope of ever fully recovering.

It’s predictable that an Ian-style storm could hit Houston in an ill-fated hurricane season and change the city forever.

IANS IMPACT: Ian floods Southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

Ian is considered one of the strongest storms in U.S. history, inundating southwest Florida and causing over two million Florida residents to lose power.

This aerial photo shows damaged homes and debris following Hurricane Ian Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida.Wilfredo Lee/AP

Eric Berger, meteorologist, editor of Space City Weather and senior space editor at Ars Technica, said when it comes to hurricanes there are three main threats to worry about: storm surge, wind and precipitation.

“Usually in a hurricane, you get one or two of these threats in a given area,” Berger said.

However, Ian is different.

“The reason I say this is a nightmare storm is because it brought all three threats to a significant portion of Florida,” Berger said.

He said it was entirely possible that this type of storm would hit the Houston area.

“The odds of it happening in any given year are pretty low — probably one in 100. But it could very well happen in any given hurricane season,” Berger said.

This aerial photo shows damaged boats and structures after Hurricane Ian on Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida.
This aerial photo shows damaged boats and structures after Hurricane Ian on Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Fort Myers, Florida.Wilfredo Lee/AP

Storm like Ian would ‘change our community forever’

Surges generally only affect coastal areas or areas within 10 to 15 feet of the waterline. In Houston, that would be places like Galveston and Seabrook, Berger said.

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Unlike storm surges, wind can have a broader effect. Wind damage can extend up to 100 miles inland in the Houston area, Berger said. He noticed Hurricane Ike in 2008 when winds were enough to shut down the power grid for about two weeks.

For Ike, he said there was a fairly large storm surge along the coast and there was some wind damage, but rain inland was not a major problem. For Harvey, he said Houston didn’t have many problems with wind or storm surge, but there was about 50 inches of rainfall. Houston has yet to face a triple threat like Ian, with a damaging storm surge, high winds and heavy inland rainfall.

Berger said a storm like Ian would be the worst-case scenario for Houston.

“It would really change our community forever,” he said.

He said the immediate impact would be devastation to parts of Galveston Island, the Bolivar Peninsula and coastal communities, along with wind damage at least as far as Interstate 10. Wind damage would rip roofs off buildings, down trees and cause power outages lasting weeks to months. A storm surge threatens to cause an environmental disaster because many chemical plants along the Houston Ship Channel are built only about 15 feet tall, meaning plants could be flooded with toxic spills into the environment, Berger said. All of this would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

“It would be very difficult for this population to come back to the way it is now,” Berger said.

WEATHER: Tropical Storm Ian expected to have indirect impacts on Houston, National Weather Service forecast

A bigger city would mean bigger consequences

Berger said there were some key differences that would make the Houston damage different than the Florida damage.

Ian hit a metropolitan area of ​​less than a million people in Florida, and much of the flood hit the Everglades, which is undeveloped.

“In Houston you are talking about a metropolitan area with around eight million inhabitants, very densely built-up and a lot of industry,” said Berger.

EYE OF A HURRICANE: Houston meteorologist Chita Craft flew through Hurricane Ian. She tells how it was.

He said the waves tend to be worse in Texas than in Florida because the ocean’s slope is more gradual here, which makes the waves worse. Florida’s coast has a steeper sea drop. The flat seabed amplifies the surf. He said the surge is also being fueled by the fact that Galveston Bay has a funnel effect.

Berger said in some areas of Florida, like Orlando, life will go on when people pick up tree branches and get back to normal within days or weeks. On the Southwest Florida coast, however, it will be a different story and months to years of recovery will be awaited.

Hurricane Ian crossed Cuba earlier this week, crippling the entire power grid and leaving 11 million people without power. The hurricane moved to Florida on Wednesday.

The storm picked up strength on Wednesday morning with winds hitting 155 miles per hour.

Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm early Thursday.

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The storm will hit Florida with strong winds, storm surges and inland rainfall. The effects were devastating.

The National Hurricane Center reported Thursday morning that coastal water levels are declining along the west coast of Florida. They reported that storm surges are looming along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina through Friday.

The winds spread north across northeast Florida, Georgia and the Carolina coasts. The National Hurricane Center also reported life-threatening and widespread flooding in parts of central Florida, southeast Georgia and eastern South Carolina.

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