Hurricane Ike produced devastating storm surge as it came ashore over the east end of Galveston Island on September 13th, 2008.
Formation & Impacts to the Caribbean
Ike originated as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa and moved west-northwest across the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) designated the system as a tropical depression on September 1st. The storm became significantly better organized by the 3rd and was upgraded to a hurricane that afternoon. Early the next morning, Hurricane Ike reached major hurricane status (Category 4) with maximum sustained winds of 125 knots and an estimated central pressure of 935mb. The storm weakened over the next few days due to moderate wind shear from high pressure to the northwest. This high, over the western Atlantic, was strong enough to force an unusual turn to the west-southwest. This heightened the threat for the Bahamas and northwestern Caribbean.
This uncharacteristic turn led Ike into a more favorable environment, causing the storm to re-intensify to Category 4 status. The cyclone made its first landfall on Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas the morning of September 7th. 5-7 inches of rain were reported on the island and high winds destroyed several structures including a cruise ship terminal. The economic impacts for Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas was estimated between $50 and $200 million (USD). Additionally, Ike’s rainbands caused deadly flooding and mudslides in Haiti – a country still recovering from three tropical systems that hit earlier that year (Fay, Gustav, and Hanna).
Hurricane Ike continued tracking west and made its second landfall near Cabo Lucrecia, Cuba on the morning of September 8th. Winds were estimated to be 115 knots (Category 4 status) at landfall. Large waves, as high as 50 ft, were likely responsible for damaged coastal homes and structures in the city of Baracoa. As much as 12-14 inches of rain fell on parts of the island. Additionally, over 300,000 homes were damaged, 13% of which were total losses. Destruction of crops, roadways and buildings also resulted in an estimated $3 and $4 billion (USD) in damages.
Gulf of Mexico & Early Impacts to the Oil & Gas Industry
The mountainous island weakened Ike to a Category 1 hurricane as it passed briefly over the waters south of Cuba and entered the Gulf of Mexico near San Cristóbal, Cuba on the evening of September 9th. Since Ike had weakened and lacked a tight inner core, high winds and heavy rains spread over an unusually large area as the storm tracked northwest across the Gulf of Mexico: Tropical storm and hurricane force winds extended 240nm and 100nm, respectively, from the center. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite passed over Ike early on the 12th, showing rainfall rates in excess of two inches per hour in the southeast quadrant of the storm.
Early preparations for Hurricane Ike caused at least 14 oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana to be shut down in advance of the storm, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This was significant since over 1.3 million barrels per day of crude oil and over 7.3 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas could not be delivered to these facilities.
Landfall over Galveston Island, TX & Impacts to the United States & Canada
Ike maintained a large wind field over the central Gulf of Mexico as it tracked west-northwest toward the upper Texas coast through September 12th. In the hours before landfall, high water levels began impacting the Gulf coast as Ike turned north-northwest and strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane. Ike would make its third landfall along the northeast end of Galveston Island, TX early on September 13th with maximum sustained winds near 95 knots (110 mph).
West of Grand Isle, Louisiana storm surge heights increased significantly: 10-13 feet from the southwest Louisiana coast to Port Arthur, Texas. The maximum storm surge recorded by any NOS tide gauge was 12.79 feet at Sabine Pass North, Texas. However, many USGS sensors indicated that there were likely localized areas with surge heights up to 17 feet. The Bolivar Peninsula and portions of Chambers County, Texas were most severely impacted by Ike’s storm surge. Most of this area was inundated by 10 feet of water. Widespread 5-7 inches of rain were reported across southeast Texas, with the highest amount measured north of Houston at 18.90 inches.
Tornadoes touched down in Texas (1), Louisiana (17), and Arkansas (9). All of these were either EF0 or EF1 rating, which is typical within tropical air masses. Storm-related fatalities totalled 19 in Texas, one in Louisiana, and one in Arkansas. Damages across the three states totalled about $29.52 billion dollars, making it the second costliest hurricane to impact the United States, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Although Ike weakened inland, the storm merged with a cold front on the 14th, which resulted in hurricane force wind gusts and 3-5 inches of rain across the Ohio Valley, an area just flooded by a passing low pressure system the week before. Storm-related fatalities across Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania totalled 28. Damage estimates for these states were nearly $4.7 billion. Hurricane force wind gusts and record rainfall were also reported across portions of southeastern Canada in the subsequent days.