On Ike

Some post-Ike ramblings, now that I’ve been back several days and had a chance to check back on Hurricane Eisenhower and its impacts…

The first actual chase summary from Ike was a photographic one from the air, courtesy of Jason Sippel. Jason was lucky enough to get a seat on a NOAA plane into Ike when it was in the central Gulf. He didn’t have a place to upload these excellent photos from his flight into the eye of Ike, so I gladly agreed to put up web-sized, low-res versions for him (used here by permission).

Inbound, into the eyewall

In the eye, looking down at the sea

A crop-n-zoom of the shot above, looking down at the whitecaps on the ocean surface

Outbound, leaving the eyewall (Great view of the curvature of the storm! Long-period swells are evident on the sea surface, lowest middle.)

Sunset in a convection-sparse part of the hurricane

This was during a period when satellite imagery indicated a paucity of convection in the inner part of the cyclone compared to most mature hurricanes, and now we’ve got an insider’s view of that skeletal structure. During and long after Jason’s flight, there were too many convection-deprived slices of that storm for its own good. This was the case both in terms of potential for reintensification when it got over pockets of high-heat content water in the central Gulf, and for tornado production during and after landfall. Looking back at soundings and radar loops, I agree with some reasoning that Bill McCaul wrote offline about the failure of Ike to produce more tornadoes than it did. Reproduced with Bill’s permission…

“…soundings and hodos in northern and eastern quads of Ike look highly anomalous, and rather unfavorable for lots of tornadoes. This is a continuation of the pattern that prevailed yesterday. There is way too much hot, dry air at midlevels on the north and east sides of this hurricane. Even the hodographs show only minimal veering at low levels, and some even show backing at midlevels! As further evidence of the anomalous character of this hurricane, the cirrus shield looks rather scrawny and confined for a storm whose low-level circulation is so large. With Rita in 2005, the cirrus shield was 2 or 3 times broader than with Ike.”

I couldn’t put it better. Ike had much too little sustained and supercellular convection, probably because of a strong negative influence from unfavorable environmental factors that Bill cited. Hence, my early thinking (on a couple of e-mail groups and discussion boards) that Ike would produce lots of tornadoes turned out to be overstated garbage. Much as in midlatitude systems, favorable thunderstorm-scale convective mode is so important to tornado potential, and this cyclone lacked that.

Damage-wise, similar to after Katrina, NOAA’s got an image map up that will take you to high-res, color satellite shots of the affected areas:

That alone could divert one’s attention for a good long time.

Also, here are a few “before and after” shots from an airplane, specifically focusing on beach houses at Crystal Beach TX (Bolivar Peninsula), that illustrate vividly the folly of putting homes out on a sand spit prone to hurricanes thanks to CB for these links).

Photo 1 | Photo 2 | Photo 3 | Photo 4

…And yet, the lesson never seems to take root, because of ridiculous, baseless and irrational local perceptions that these storms “happen somewhere else” or (a common rationalization often cited by those who rebuild) “won’t hit here like that again.” My main problem with these situations is if my dollars — whether through taxes or elevated insurance rates for me — involuntarily help to fund the building or rebuilding of beach houses in the path of hurricanes. The same story keeps coming up, over and over, from the Carolinas all the way around to Texas. If somebody wants to slap up a house right on a beach, fine…as long as they agree (and prove the means to) eat the cost, out of hide, if it goes down in a storm, including cleanup and environmental mitigation, and don’t ask to be rescued at my (taxpayer) expense.

Since a basic tenet of mine is that complaints without solutions are worthless, I’ll offer the solution: Quit building that crap there! Fortunately, Texas already has a cool little law that could help to prevent some of this from happening again.

Same goes with keeping exotic/invasive flora and fauna in hurricane prone areas. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You may recall that, after Hurricane Andrew, numerous monkeys escaped from various insufficiently robust and secure enclosures; and some still are on the loose today, both in inhabited and Everglades areas of southern Dade County. A private fish tank busted open in Andrew’s surge and set loose lionfish into Biscayne Bay, and by a few miles’ extension, the Gulf Stream. Untold thousands of stinging varmints descended from that release are causing trouble across the western Atlantic and Caribbean. Now comes word of a tiger loose on the Bolivar Peninsula. At least the big cat either will die or be rounded up eventually. In the meantime, there’s probably plenty of wild and pet carrion on which for it to gnaw.

I wonder how many of the people from Bolivar to Beaumont will claim their water-surged houses actually were destroyed by a tornado (for insurance claim) as happened after Katrina, with the government “covering up” the supposed occurrence of “thousands” of tornadoes. I’ve heard some amazing stories from damage surveyors of Katrina’s aftermath about such claims by homeowners and their attorneys — tales from the lunatic fringe that would be riotously laughable if it weren’t for the fact that some paranoid ignoramuses actually believe such rubbish. Let’s hope it doesn’t become too common with Ike.


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