"Freak" Hurricane Ike Will Cost $22 Billion

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"I think we were anticipating that it might have intensified a little faster over the Gulf. But very often, you see storms that never recover after they have had interaction with land."

Masters said Ike became a "freak" over the Gulf of Mexico because its barometric pressure started dropping, which is usually an indication that a hurricanes winds are strengthening. Ike's winds did strengthen some, but not as much as forecasters expected.

Still, Ike was so large that its winds set most of the Gulf of Mexico into motion, and that's why its storm surge became so large and destructive.

Killer Storm

The hurricane has killed at least 34 people in the U.S.

Rescue workers are still trying to reach some coastal residents who did not heed the National Weather Service's dire warning to evacuate in advance of the storm.

Among the residents who did not leave were about 500 people on the Bolivar Peninsula just north of Galveston.

When Ike made landfall, the peninsula was hit by the storm's front-right quadrant, which carries a hurricane's peak winds and maximum storm surge.

Masters noted that 80 percent of the homes on Bolivar Peninsula were destroyed.

Dan Reilly, a meteorologist at the Houston-Galveston National Weather Service office, said Ike's storm surge combined with large pounding waves caused the damage on the peninsula.

The arrival of a storm surge is gradual as the hurricane approaches land and pushes the edges of the surge ahead of its center. But the surge steadily increases as the center of the hurricane gets closer.

When the hurricane's eye arrives, the powerful winds can create large breaking waves riding atop the surge, and these waves are very destructive as they crash down on buildings.

Reilly said the surge and pounding waves caused heavy damage on Bolivar Peninsula and the southwestern end of Galveston Island. But the surge did not top the city's 17-foot (5.2-meter) seawall, built after a devastating hurricane in 1900. (See scenes of the devastation left behind after the 1900 hurricane.)

Masters added that although the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season still has more than two months remaining, the rampage of Hurricane Ike and earlier storms that formed in the same area this summer may prevent future storms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida from becoming as powerful as they might otherwise have been.

"They all acted to cool down the ocean in the Gulf and around the Bahamas," Masters said. "So the next storm that comes through will not have as much heat."

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