Hurricane Ike Still Stings 3 Years Later

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It’s subjective as always, but I must be having fun because time has flown by. Right about now, almost at this very hour three years ago, I was wrapping up 36 straight hours on the air as the chief meteorologist for KUHF-FM in Houston. For the occasion, I moved from our ImpactWeather sound booth to the main studios near downtown. With an internet connection at KUHF, I had access to all the data the operational meteorologists had at ImpactWeather, with the added benefit of being on-site in case communications and/or internet went down. Plus, we had 2-way radios — if all else failed — so that ImpactWeather and KUHF would always be able to communicate with each other. As long as KUHF was able to stay on the air we would be able to broadcast the latest on the hurricane as it moved across Houston and southeast Texas.

In the KUHF studio with Chris Johnson (left) while Hurricane Ike approaches Houston from the Gulf Coast and Galveston Island. The clock on the wall reads 2:47:09 AM - or about 37 minutes after official landfall. Photo: Chris Johnson

I remember during the peak of the storm in the early morning hours, the pummeling wind that shook the Melcher Center Building, home to not only the KUHF studios but also KUHT TV. We learned later that enough rain had been driven through door and window frames that the 1st floor TV studios were experiencing flooding. On the 3rd floor, we had no such flooding concerns but the vibrations and the groaning of the building made us all wonder how much more it could stand. And the Melcher Building is a big building — we knew it could withstand a lot, but we all know hurricanes can bring out the best and worst in building design.

The KUHF on-air team of Paul Pendergraft (top left), Chris Johnson (right) and me are mesmerized by the radar images as Ike moved across Houston. This photo was included in a story about the hurricane in Public Radio's monthly trade publication, Current. Photo: Chris Johnson

By mid-morning on the 13th, KUHF decided the wall-to-wall coverage of the weakening storm could end and shortly after that it was decided that the on-air meteorologist could be reactivated at the ImpactWeather operations center. Not much longer after that, I made the long, lonely, desolate drive across metro and suburban Houston to my home for a much needed shower and sleep. Debris, flooding, no traffic control and downed power lines slowed my travel to a crawl but I made it in a little over an hour (about twice the normal time).

The eye of Hurricane Ike makes landfall on September 13, 2008. Image: NOAA

Many, of course, were much less fortunate. Hurricane Ike resulted in 103 direct and 92 indirect fatalities while totaling more than $37 billion dollars in damages — the third costliest tropical storm in U.S. history. Sadly, the Laura Recovery Center of Friendswood, TX still lists 16 persons missing, most from the city of Galveston.

Not all buildings are constructed the same. After Hurricane Ike passed over the Bolivar Peninsula, I bet I know which homebuilder was overwhelmed with requests for new construction. Image: NOAA

I had the opportunity to ride my bike along the Bolivar Peninsula all the way to High Island this past Saturday. If I didn’t already know, I wouldn’t be aware that Ike had ravaged the towns of Port Bolivar, Crystal Beach and Gilchrist. Three years gone, the clean-up was mostly complete and the flurry of rebuilding has faded. Overall there are fewer homes, fewer businesses, a few structures that have not been touched since this day in 2008, and much less beach — but to me the area looks remarkably well.

Just a couple of days ago (September 10) we reached the climatological peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season. Being on the “backside” now means we can see the light at the end of the tropical tunnel but, as we saw with Ike, being past the peak doesn’t really mean anything. Anniversaries mean something, however. Whether it’s the third anniversary of Hurricane Ike, or the 10th anniversary of 9/11 or the anniversary of something near to you, it’s a time for remembrance, for taking stock and for taking the steps to be better prepared for next time.

Time flies when you’re having fun, even if you don’t realize it. Don’t let too much time get away from you before preparing your emergency kit and being ready for the next storm.

As it has since 1872, the Port Bolivar Lighthouse has weathered many a storm - including Hurricane Ike. Photo: Dave Gorham

Additional link: Point Bolivar Lighthouse.

 

 

 

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