Hurricane Ike May Hit Texas With 15-Foot Storm Surge

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The water off the coast of Texas is shallow, making the state more vulnerable to strong surges, Masters said.

For instance, an unnamed hurricane that struck Texas in August 1942 was a powerful Category 3 with winds of about 115 miles (185 kilometers) an hour around its center when it was in the Gulf's deeper waters.

A Category 3 would usually create a storm surge of about 9 to 12 feet (2.7 to 3.6) meters.

But the 1942 hurricane weakened considerably before it came ashore about halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi.

Still this hurricane pushed a storm surge of as much as 15 feet (4.6 meters), and much of that surge was caused by the shallower waters of the continental shelf—a likely scenario for Ike, Masters said.

A hurricane of that strength would normally create a storm surge of only about 4 or 5 feet (1.2 or 1.5 meters) as it made landfall.

Reenergizing

Ike diminished from a powerful Category 4 to a Category 1 when it made landfall in central Cuba earlier this week. The storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico yesterday. (Watch a video of waves crashing over buildings in Cuba.)

But the hurricane is expected to reenergize as it crosses an area of deep, warm water in the Gulf known as the Loop Current, and may reach Category 4 status with winds of 131 to 155 miles (210 to 249 kilometers) an hour.

Merriman of the National Weather Service said the forecast track for Ike is likely to change before it makes landfall.

It could end up hitting the Texas coast from Port Arthur near the Louisiana border southward to Brownsville near the U.S.-Mexico border.

But regardless of where Ike comes ashore, its storm surge is expected to inundate the low-lying barrier islands just offshore from Texas, experts said.

Willie Drye is author of Storm of the Century: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.

HURRICANE BASICS

Hurricane Facts
Hurricane Safety Tips
Hurricane Photos
Forecasting Killer Hurricanes (National Geographic Magazine)

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