Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Watch: Galveston, Gasoline and Greed

From Wunderblog:
Hurricane Ike is closing in on Texas, and stands poised to become one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time. Despite Ike's rated Category 2 strength, the hurricane is much larger and more powerful than Category 5 Katrina or Category 5 Rita. The storm surge from Ike could rival Katrina's, inundating a 200-mile stretch of coast from Galveston to Cameron, Louisiana with waters over 15 feet high.

This massive storm surge is due to the exceptional size of Ike. According to the latest wind field estimate (Figure 1), the diameter of Ike's tropical storm and hurricane force winds are 550 and 240 miles, respectively. For comparison, Katrina numbers at landfall were 440 and 210 miles, respectively. As I discussed in yesterday's blog entry, a good measure of the storm surge potential is Integrated Kinetic Energy (IKE). Ike continues to grow larger and has intensified slightly since yesterday, and the hurricane's Integrated Kinetic Energy has increased from 134 to 149 Terajoules. This is 30% higher than Katrina's total energy at landfall. All this extra energy has gone into piling up a vast storm surge that will probably be higher than anything in recorded history along the Texas coast.

Storm surge heights of 20-25 feet are possible from Galveston northwards to the Louisiana border. The Texas storm surge record is held by Hurricane Carla of 1961. Carla was a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds at landfall, and drove a 10 foot or higher storm surge to a 180-mile stretch of Texas coast. A maximum storm surge of 22 feet was recorded at Port Lavaca, Texas....
From Environmental Capital:

Hurricane Ike: Get Ready For Soaring Gasoline Prices

Hurricane Ike is bearing down on the Texas coast like an eerie reminder of the deadly 1900 storm that mauled Galveston, and represents a perfect-storm scenario of possible damage to vulnerable refining, chemical, and shipping industries.

As Ike’s Category-2 winds start pounding one-quarter of America’s oil-refining capacity, what’s the likely outcome in terms of gasoline prices and shortages? Reuters quotes one breathless meteorologist:

“Hurricane Ike is a gigantic Category 2 monster and is likely to generate a massive and particularly destructive storm surge at key refinery centers,” said Jim Rouiller, meteorologist with private weather forecaster Planalytics. “Close to 20 percent of the U.S. refining capability could be lost for a long period of time.”...MORE

Two from Climateer Investing last year:

Thursday, July 12, 2007
Katrina devastation not unrivaled, analysis finds

If the Great Storm of 1900 had hit Galveston two years ago, it would have inflicted $72 billion in damage, nearly as much as Hurricane Katrina, researchers say.

Already the country's deadliest hurricane with an estimated 8,000 deaths, the 1900 storm also would rank as the nation's third costliest, say hurricane scientists who sought to gauge the economic damage that historic storms would have caused if they had occurred in 2005.

Under the new analysis, which adjusted for inflation, population and coastal development, Hurricane Katrina and its $81 billion cost ranked second to the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, which caused damage estimated at almost $140 billion. Another Galveston hurricane, in 1915, ranked fourth with $57 billion in damage.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Galveston poised to defy geologists
GALVESTON, TEXAS — Leaders of this fast-eroding barrier island — the scene of the deadliest hurricane in American history — are about to approve nearly 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotels despite geologists' warnings that the massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the island's natural storm shield.

...City officials "are choosing not to see anything that gets in the way of their precious tax dollars," said study co-author Tim Dellapenna, an assistant professor of marine geology at Texas A&M University. "But believe me, there is a protective ridge on Galveston Island, and this development would cut right through it."

The master-planned community, including a marina and possibly a golf course, would span more than 1,000 acres from the Gulf of Mexico shoreline to the backside overlooking Galveston Bay.

It would urbanize a large swath of the island's sparsely developed center and would lie outside a concrete seawall that protects the older section of the city from storm surges — a barrier built because of a deadly lesson in 1900.

Now I know the re-insurers have some pretty fancy ways to lay off their risk but how do you insure against stupidity?