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Houston decides to stare down Ike instead of leave

An AP article points out that Houston has made the decision to NOT evacuate in the face of hurricane Ike.  The spector the the botched Rita evacuaton in 2005, where 100 people lost their lives:

But three days before landfall, Rita bloomed into a Category 5 and tracked toward the city. City and Harris County officials told Houstonians to hit the road, even while the population of Galveston Island was still clogging the freeways. It was a decision that proved tragic: 110 people died during the effort, making the evacuation more deadly than the eventual Category 4 storm, which killed nine.

I hope that this decision won’t come back to haunt Houston officials.  They are really in a no win situation, as any deaths in an evacuation, or any deaths now, among people who were told not to evacuate will be blamed on them.

To compound matters, Ike will likely have a storm surge to rival or even surpass Katrina.  Top wind speed is not the best predictor of total storm damage.  Most hurrican damage is tidal surge damage not direct wind damage.  Storm surge is not product of max wind speeds, but of wind speed integrated over the total area of the storm.  Ike has tropical storm force winds, and hurricane force winds that extend out further from the storm center than Katrina did.  See this blog entry by Jeff Masters at wunderground.com for an excellent discussion.

The amount of water Ike has put in motion is about 50% greater than what Katrina did, and thus we can expect Ike’s storm surge damage will be similar to or greater than Katrina’s. The way we can estimate this damage potential is to compute the total energy of Ike’s surface winds (kinetic energy). To do this, we must look at how strong the winds are, and factor in the areal coverage of these winds.