Dispelling those hurricane myths
A common falsehood among hurricanes is the “100-year rule,” Lamar University scientist Dr. Richard Ashmore told residents at a recent seminar.
Ashmore teaches primarily geology and is also an award-winning photographer. He presented ground and aerial photographs of damage from hurricanes Ike and Rita to the Orange County Retired Teachers Association.
“The odds of us having a Category 5 next year, have the equal odds of the next year and the equal odds of the next year,” he said. “And so, just because you have a Rita hit in 2005, doesn’t mean that an Ike wasn’t supposed to be here. We often get it in our heads that since we had a bad one hit, it’s not going to happen again and that’s not true.”
Another myth is talk of “more beach” after a hurricane moves onto land.
“It looks like there’s more land,” he said. “What has happened is, some sand has moved in, but what was on the coastline before is gone.
“Some houses are still there,” he said, referring to the Bolivar / Galveston area. “They were newer houses, built to new codes. We can build structures that withstand strong winds and other things, but one thing we can’t do is make a beach develop in front of your house. And eventually what’s going to happen in the next 20 to 30 years, is a lot of these buildings will be sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico and you’ll need a boat to get to them … and I guarantee you the state won’t like that.”
Erosion also affects “geo-tube” structures along shorelines. The tubes are basically seawall-like devices that build faster than seawalls. Often referred to as “sand socks,” they’re buried along coasts and filled with sand to protect houses and other buildings. However, Ashmore said, they are costly to maintain and eventually won’t be able to protect the homes they were designed for.
Ike’s strength was in its size, he said, plus lack of speed. And while its damage to Orange County as a Category 2 was considerable, it could have made landfall as a 4 or 5 but broke up over the western mountains of Cuba. After that, it was never able to gain more strength, however, used the warm gulf water and slow rate of travel as an unwelcome visitor.
Ashmore added, “This storm sort of came in at an oblique angle of angle of approach, and when it does that, it stays out in the water longer … and when a storm creates a lot of wind energy, that energy is translated into the water.”