STAFFORD — The first recorded hurricane warning in history was ignored at great cost. This historical incident established a pattern — one that persists to this day, former National Hurricane Center chief Bill Read said.

The year was 1502, and the forecast was by explorer Christopher Columbus. He told the Spanish governor of Hispaniola to keep his fleet of treasure ships safely in port because rising storm swells suggested the approach of a hurricane. 

The governor didn’t heed the warning.

“The ships sank,” Read said. “And so it began.”

Read, who is KPRC-TV’s resident hurricane expert, and other meteorologists are still issuing such cautions for coastal residents each year. Read, the keynote speaker Wednesday at the 25th Hurricane Symposium in Stafford, explained just how bad things could get.

“You’re basically living in a very hurricane-threatened zone,” Read said. “Even if you didn’t flood in Ike, remember that wasn’t the worst possible scenario. For instance, a Category 3 or 4 storm striking at San Luis Pass would send waves over the seawall, flood the Bay side and put Clear Lake well under water.”

For the future, he’s a backer of the Ike Dike proposal, which, if successful would offer a floodgate barrier of protection for much of the area. But for now, it’s best to be ready and willing to run.

“The key for the county is to evacuate away from the surge, even if you can’t escape the wind,” he said. “As for the West End and Bolivar, you’re still as vulnerable as ever. Now is the time to get prepared. Your elected officials and emergency managers get this, so when they tell you to do something, please do it.”

Impact Weather’s Chris Hebert agreed that Ike was not the worst storm possible.

Hebert said: “Ike struck the eastern end of Galveston Island. If it had struck nearer San Luis Pass, then Texas City would have completely gone underwater — 8 or 9 feet deep. We’d look like New Orleans (during Hurricane Katrina) — with Webster, League City, Dickinson and Clear Lake submerged. Water might extend as far as I-45 on the southeast side of Houston.”

These theoretical projections encompass 1 million residents on the Upper Texas Coast. Hebert, who is Impact’s lead hurricane forecaster, said that the challenge of convincing residents to evacuate in a timely manner remains unsolved.

“If you listen, you can get out in time and not wait to see if you can be rescued later,” Hebert said.

Symposium emcee Frank Billingsley of KPRC-TV offered a further caution to business owners.

“The Insurance Information Institute tells us that 40 percent of businesses affected by natural disasters never reopen,” he told the audience of emergency managers and planners.

The recently issued hurricane season forecasts from Colorado State University, AccuWeather and The Weather Channel all agree that 2014 is predicted to be a relatively quiet year for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes, but experts at the symposium said such pronouncements should not affect local plans and preparations, since one landfall is enough to ruin anyone’s day.

Rick Cousins can be reached at


The story of the first airborne “hurricane hunter”

On July 27, 1943, a Navy instructor pilot and observer deliberately flew into a Category 2 hurricane as the storm crossed Ellington Field, just north of the Galveston County line. Contemporary wisdom had it that the aircraft of the day were unsafe when it came to passing through even a garden-variety thunderstorm, so navigating into a hurricane was never a sane option, whatever the stakes. Still, flying their single-engine, training aircraft from the Naval Air Station at Bryan-College, the pair succeeded, though not in any effort to boldly make history. The first-ever aerial intercept of a tropical cyclone was instead just an attempt to win a bar bet with their service buddies.

Source: Bill Read.


Bill Read will be  at the annual Hurricane Preparedness Town Hall Meeting at 5 p.m. May 28 at the Island Community Center, 4700 Broadway in Galveston.




(5) comments

John Yeatman

From Local2 about the 1943 Surprise hurricane:
It's hard to believe during that storm in 1943 Galveston residents had no warning before a hurricane made landfall.

"It was during World War II, 1943. There was a censorship on weather information. We didn't want the Germans operating in the Gulf to know we were at risk of a storm," said Local 2 Hurricane Expert.

Steve Fouga

Ike didn't ruffle the shingles of my house, or put water over the curb, a few blocks from the seawall.

Ike blew the roof off my mom's house in Katy, 70 miles from the coast.

You just never know...[unsure]

George Croix

My elected officials and emergency managers may 'get it' now, but they sure made the pooch walk funny when Rita hit.
Here's some advice from a non-expert to be at least considered:
NEVER listen to any single or group of idiots 'planning' to close access to or from major available traffic routes to facilitate evacuation. It makes as much sense as trying to drink a cold Diet Coke by leaving the cap on and just putting a pin hole in it to draw out the liquid.
Unless, of course, you LIKE 2 hour trips that take 12 to 14 hours, and want to increase your chances of injury or death rather than minimize them.
If they're that goofy, might want to consider NOT voting for them to run anything else either more complicated than a lemonade stand.
Short memories are their best friends....

Steve Fouga

It does worry me that my ability to escape a storm, and my right to choose to weather a storm, and my permission to return to my home after a storm -- are all in the hands of people whose judgement I have no reason to trust any more than I trust my own. And I'm no expert by any means.

The idea that I might be told to leave, and not be allowed to return on my own timetable, gives me the willies.

Miceal O'Laochdha

You are absolutely right Jake, and I don't have any good ideas to alleviate your worries either. I share them.

It comes as no surprise that, after many decades of dealing with hurricanes both ashore and at sea, I consider the biggest hurricane threat to the wellbeing of myself and family is presented by people; not Mother Nature.

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