Rice expert hopes Houston-Galveston leaders use new book to promote storm protection
As teachers go, Hurricane Ike isn’t likely to win any popularity contests. But the 2008 storm, the third-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, taught severe-storm experts much about how to protect Houston and Galveston from the ravages of future storms.
In the new book “Lessons from Hurricane Ike,” Rice University severe-storm expert Phil Bedient and more than 20 researchers from the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center give a 194-page accounting of all they have learned in more than two years of studying Ike, which caused nearly $25 billion damage and killed dozens.
“Ike revealed just how vulnerable the Houston-Galveston region is to a major storm, but Ike also helped us visualize the true ‘worst-case’ storm scenario for our region,” said Bedient, director of the SSPEED Center. “The main lesson from Ike is that we can avoid catastrophic damage from future storms if we choose to act.”
“Lessons from Hurricane Ike” will be available June 1 in both print and electronic form from a variety of retail and online vendors. The publisher, Texas A&M University Press, is hosting a Houston launch event from 4:30-6:30 p.m. May 31 at Café Adobe, 2111 Westheimer Road.
The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.
“Lessons from Hurricane Ike” is not a textbook. Its 12 chapters summarize key information about specific topics like storm prediction and emergency planning. The writing is accessible and easy for nonexperts to understand, and each chapter is accompanied by a provocative collection of color photos, diagrams, maps and illustrations. The result is a contextual work that uses the latest science has to offer to contrast Ike with both past storms and future storms.
“This book should be read by anyone in an official capacity who desires a deeper understanding of the complexities of developing in the hurricane impact zone,” wrote National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read in a review on the book’s back cover. “Particular attention should be paid to the chapter on ‘Steps to the Future,’ which I found very insightful in addressing the daunting task before the next ‘Big One’ impacts the Texas Gulf Coast.”
SSPEED Center Co-director Jim Blackburn said, “Ike’s ranking as the third-costliest hurricane in U.S. history is all the more amazing given that it ranked as a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale at the time it made landfall and given that the point of landfall caused most of the storm surge to come ashore east of the major industrial and residential development near Galveston Bay.”
The SSPEED Center’s research confirmed the need to rethink hurricane damage potential based on storm surge as well wind speed.
“Many people living in high-risk areas failed to evacuate because Ike was ‘only’ a Category 2 storm,” Blackburn said. “If Ike had struck 50 miles down the coast as predicted, it could have killed thousands of people and caused massive damage to the industrial infrastructure of the nation as well as extensive ecological damage due to contaminant spillage.”
The SSPEED Center’s study of Hurricane Ike resulted from a $4.5 million investment from Houston Endowment. The center issued recommendations from the study in November. SSPEED’s Ike research team included experts from Rice, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Texas Southern University and other organizations.
Bedient, Rice’s Herman Brown Professor of Engineering and one of the world’s foremost flooding experts, co-wrote three chapters of the book. Blackburn, professor in the practice of environmental law in Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, co-wrote the final chapter, “Steps to the Future.” That chapter compares a variety of structural and nonstructural storm-protection proposals, including the 100-mile “Ike Dike” seawall, a floodgate at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel and a national recreation area to preserve wetlands as natural flood barriers.
“The Houston-Galveston region has important choices to make about how to prepare for future storms,” Bedient said. “There are many options. Doing nothing is an option, but our research showed that would be an expensive choice. One goal of the SSPEED Center is making sure that citizens, business leaders and policymakers understand the true costs and relative benefits of the ‘do-nothing’ option as well as the structural and nonstructural options.”