A few years before Hurricane Ike brought its devastating surge, I was talking to a sales clerk on The Strand. The young man, who had recently moved to the island, stated that he could hardly wait to experience a hurricane.
Having been through that stage earlier in my life, I looked at him and said, “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!”
I never discovered what happened to him, but I would expect that his attitude toward tropical cyclones is considerably different these days.
Psychologists claim that we are more apt to remember the good than the bad in thinking about the past. As a consequence, we can be lulled into complacency when we go a long time without a major crisis or challenge. Certainly this has survival and coping value, but it also can lead to major problems when it is necessary to confront unpleasant situations.
That is the dilemma we face as we enter a new hurricane season. And it is not just an issue with the general public. Some officials are saying that if regional authorities do not move quickly in developing a plan for surge protection, the political will for this may soon vanish for the same reason — complacency.
We have now gone seven consecutive seasons locally without significant tropical activity, nearly matching the relatively quiet period of 1990 to 1997, though less than the record 10-year lull from 1922 through 1931.
Every decade since 1900 has had at least one moderate to severe tropical storm or hurricane hit the upper Texas Coast, carrying destructive winds (such as Hurricane Alicia, 1983), extreme surges (Hurricane Ike, 2008), tornadoes (Hurricane Carla, 1961), or excessive rains and major floods (Tropical Storm Claudette, 1979, and Tropical Storm Allison, 2001). There is no reason to assume that this decade will be different. The clock is ticking, and we need to be prepared for the end of our current “lucky” spell.
The question is not “if” we will see another damaging storm, but “when,” and “when” is likely to be fairly soon if history is any guide. A National Hurricane Center study shows that the upper Texas Coast can expect a hurricane to come within 50 nautical miles once every nine years.
However, this statistic is somewhat misleading. It excludes, for example, Hurricane Carla (1961), the 1919 Hurricane (which pushed a 9-foot tide into Galveston) and the 1941 Hurricane, none of which came within 50 nautical miles of Galveston County. It also doesn’t consider destructive tropical storms, such as Claudette in 1979 and Allison in 2001.
When these kinds of storms are considered, the “return” time decreases to about five years on average. While we may be lucky and match or exceed the 10-year lull of the 1920s, it is evident that we soon will experience another moderate to severe tropical system.
Now is the time to prepare. Make sure you have plans to protect your property and life when the next system appears and, if evacuation is ordered, have at least one potential site of refuge in mind. Complacency is not a luxury that coastal dwellers can afford.
Stan Blazyk’s “Weather Watch” blog appears at galvnews.com.