Hurricane Ike’s Lousy Aim

HURRICANE IKE’S LOUSY AIM Director Phil Bedient comments on a report released today by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED): “‘Ike was a Category 2 hurricane, and it caused $30 billion in damage. Had that same storm struck 30 miles farther south, it could easily have caused $100 billion in damage. Had it struck that location as a Category 4 storm, like Carla, the results would have been catastrophic.’ . . . Bedient said one need look no further than the Houston Ship Channel to get a clear sense of the region’s vulnerability. The ship channel is home to one of the nation’s busiest ports and about one-quarter of U.S. refineries. The Coast Guard estimates a one-month closure of a major port like Houston would cost the national economy $60 billion. Despite this, government regulations require dikes and levees that can protect ship channel facilities against only the 100-year flood of 14-15 feet. Bedient said that based upon results from supercomputer models at the University of Texas, Austin, Ike could have caused a 20- to 25-foot storm surge along the ship channel if it had struck about 30 miles farther south.” [SSPEED, via Memorial Examiner; report (PDF)]

16 Comment

  • Ike was one of the oddities like Alison was -a Category 2 storm with a Category 4 Northeast quadrant. That was why there was so much damage. Fortunately everyone evacuated – otherwise it would have been far worse in terms of the death toll.

  • Here’s the thing, the oil companies are way ahead of Mr. Bedient. Some of our client relations guys are already getting calls about protecting existing refineries beyond the federal requirements. I’m specifically focused on two refineries right now. Word on the street is that others are inquiring about boosting protection also.

    The problem with protecting above and beyond requirements is quantifying the protection in benefit to cost to the client. It’s easy to say just throw up a 30-ft wall or raise all critical equipment that high.

    The other problem is that storm surges does not in anyway correlate to storm category. Storm category and potential damage from that storm is purely based on wind. Storm surge is a different animal. Ike, although a lower category storm, produced what many thought was an above average storm surge.

    Despite what many people think, the refinery business has extremely thin profit margins. The money is made in the oil exploration and selling of the oil to the refineries. Within a major company like Exxon or BP, the refining division just barely makes enough to stay in operation. The refining division has to buy the barrel of oil from their internal inventory or other companies. Companies that just refine (such as Valero) are always on the edge of shutting down. The main thing keeping Valero operating is the actual stores it operates at gas stations. Selling redbull and chips keeps them in the black. The head of Valero considered shutting their refinery division a couple of years ago when oil was getting real expensive.

    Major damage from something like a flood may shut down a refinery indefinitely and caused many job losses.

  • kjb, in the aftermath of Ike is a consensus for implementation of a new, different storm category system that takes storm surge into account. Eric Berger’s SciGuy blog covered this at length.

  • I’m aware of the push to change the classification system. The problem is that it hasn’t made it into the regulatory environment yet.

    They are having trouble because you can’t make a catch all system for it.

  • Meanwhile, inland, the Harris County Flood Control District has almost completely shut down work on KEY components of flood control work begun as a result of the TS Allison Recovery Program’s findings.

    Just brilliant.

    Welcome to Hurricane season, folks.

    …and save me the “no money” CRAP, apologists. There is NOTHING more important than completing EVERY flood control effort identified by experts in our region. Just adjust Allison’s dollar damage (2001) to today’s dollars – and not even a minimal hurricane. It is staggering!

    GET BACK TO WORK, YOU CORRUPT HARRIS COUNTY CRONY/IDIOTS – finish all the TSARP designated projects NOW!

    BTW, how’s your multi-million $ soap box hill in Hockley, Radack?

  • Udunno, which projects were shut down?

  • Ike, although a lower category storm, produced what many thought was an above average storm surge.

    Thought? No one thought. They looked at what wasn’t left on Bolivar Peninsula and KNEW.

  • I didn’t say “shut down”, kjb. That’s an important misquote.

    I said “almost completely shut down work on key components…” Not the same.

    Nothing, e.g., has been done on the Willow Waterhole segment in months, and acc’d to
    HCFCD s’person, nothing to come for quite some time. WW (bayou/ditch) was a major contributor to the destruction in Braes Heights/ Med Ctr., etc. as identified by TSARP – and we’re stuck at segment 3 (of 8). Stupid and shortsighted.
    Some components, of course were complete, und the bridge work continues, but the WW “stall” is not unique. Yes, the bridge work is tough, but 3 (!) of 32 segments complete within 6+ months? I’m told that the Eldridge Basin is going slow-play soon, as well.

    Also, Hou Parks, Tex Widlife, and/or HCFCD has abandoned key maintenance (erosion control, crushed granite footpaths sliding downhill into the pond, no signage, etc.) at WW for extended periods, which just adds costs down the line.

    Whatever, this entire project should be priority ONE for Harris County – stop the waste and the delays can be fatal.

    HCFCD – It’s the water, stupid!

  • Udunno,

    First you need to understand that Harris County has nothing to do with HCFCD budget. They are separate entities that operate separately.

    No commissioner can take money away from HCFCD and spend it on HC stuff. It can’t happen.

    With that said, HCFCD has always made it appoint that they will only build what they have money for at the time (it’s called Pay-as-you-go). They partially build detention facilities all the time. HCFCD has been trying to wrap up other federal projects that can potentially get reimbursed quicker. Brays isn’t on that list as high as White Oak and Sims. When theses projects start seeing federal reimbursements coming in, then Brays will get moving quicker. It’ll be slow for a while now.

  • kjb-
    I do understand the relationship -it is incestuous.

    My point, glossed over by you, is that the impact of a significant storm on Brays Bayou today – 9 years after an ultimate wake-up call, a billion dollar catastrophic storm not even rating hurricane status – is still a potential catastrophe…and HCFCD is backing off the timetable.

    A personal note, kjb; you seem mired in bureaucracy and incrementalism, kind of like the Corps in your home state. This is Texas; we can and have addressed big problems rapidly before. Trust me, there is no more important flood control work than Project Brays in terms of $$$$ impact. Even HC knows that.

    That’s why they’re stupid to delay/defer anything related to the project. Period.

    Are they going to name the Soap Box $3m hill after your pal Radack?

  • Udunno,

    Instead of coming after me, you could inquire with HCFCD for their budget numbers. It’s public info and a presentation is given every year to go over them. They only get to spend what HCFCD’s property tax rate brings in and whatever federal money they can get. Their revenue has slowed just like everybody else. This means the level of work on their project will slow down.

    Also, after project Brays is completed, the protection provided doesn’t mean it will not flood again. It just means it won’t flood as bad as before……

    The category of the storm has nothing do with the amount of flooding. IKE moving right over Houston would have caused untold amounts of damage, but the flooding would likely be much less than Allison because the storm moved much quicker.

    Allison was essentially a rain storm that just didn’t go away. The flooding from Allison will NOT be solved by the completion of Project Brays. No one in there right mind would claim that.

  • ..and no one did.

    I “come after you” and you repeatedly misquote me.

    Yes, less flooding than before is always the goal, and the powers-that-be are dragging their feet. Why in the hell do you try to imply I think it will solve all flood problems? Never did, never will. Just a dumb straw man argument.

    I’m sorry you can’t see the possible implications of dallying on this crucial project. I’m also sorry you’re nothing more than an apologist for anything Harris County.

    I’ll stop “coming after you” now – for at least awhile.

    Try and grab a soap-box derby car ride this holiday, and say “hi” to Radack – maybe he’ll shoot you some business.


  • Udunno,

    And you obviously haven’t read any of my posts completely. I haven’t apologized once for Harris County (and their multitude of problems). HCFCD is not HC. They are two different entities with two different budgets. They can’t stop or start each others projects or take each others money in any case.

    I have taken side with HCFCD which you malign with no real evidence other than the project is going slow. I explained why it’s going slow. It’s no secret if you seek to find out why it is occurring.

    I don’t know why you keep bring Raddack in this since he can’t do anything about this project. He can’t make it stop or start or take money away from it. He doesn’t have the power.

  • One last try.

    You seem to overlook the fact that (again!) nobody said HCFCD IS HC.

    Do you wilfully misquote, or is it dyslexia?
    Only the latter is an acceptable excuse, and misquoting is the last refuge of the underinformed.
    I suspect you can read an ORGANIZATION CHART (?). Further, guess what org. gets to appoint the Executive Director of HCFCD?

    The point is: HCFCD is an agency with a (somewhat) specific mandate STRICTLY under the auspices of the Commissioner’s Court. Hopefully, you understand that if HCFCD is not properly respectful/subservient to our omnipotent County Judge/Commissioners, then the boss’ head will roll and the next appointee will fall in line with Raddack, Emmitt, et al. Very simple….been that way for over 7 decades.

  • And if you knew the relationship between the head of HCFCD and the commissioners, you’ll understand that the commissioners rubber stamp whatever HCFCD puts on their agenda since politically they have no need to stick there fingers in the business of HCFCD.

    HCFCD looks to the commissioners as a procedural step and no commissioner will challenge HCFCD’s request. The commissioners’ position is that HCFCD isn’t spending county money and since the county can’t use their money, then hands off.

    Also, there have been many county projects where they get snagged by HCFCD rules. The commissioners will not step in the push influence. The new county jail facilities just north downtown cause a major uproar politically. HCFCD held the county’s feet to the fire to prove that the facility doesn’t impact the floodplain and floodway. I’ve been in some meetings were HC and HCFCD are at odds. It’s hard to see HCFCD just roll over cause a commissioner wants them do do so. This is just from personal experience and talking colleagues in the industry.

  • Well sir, you are naive at the macro level, regardless of what you’ve observed on “micro-level” projects.

    HCFCD employees know who approves their budgets, and who appoints their boss – and they know it shapes their careers.

    The “rolling over” is not for public consumption (i.e., for “players” like yourself); in fact no one inside needs any explicit “episodes” to understand the way the wind blows. Of course, with its mandate, there will be overlap and disagreement and HCFCD’s position can prevail. That doesn’t change the fact that Commissioner’s Court has HCFCD by the short hairs when it pleases.

    HCCC dominates HCFCD (doesn’t mean it dictates all policies/projects). I regret you remain unaware of this fact and invite you ACTUALLY read HCFCD’s relevant website info. Tails never wag dogs.