Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun with hurricanes

(Reposting my email to family and friends)

Well this has sure been an interesting week for me.

Last Thursday, with Hurricane Ike predicted to come somewhere close to Houston late Friday night/early Saturday morning, NASA closed at noon to allow us to take care of our homes while at the same time Houston issued a mandatory evacuation for my area (among others). I didn't go into work but spent Thursday boarding up and taking pictures of my house, as early reports had the storm surge at 25 feet if it hit in just the right (wrong) place. My house sits at about 23 feet. On Thursday, despite the evacuation order, I was going to try to ride it out. But Friday morning as the storm got closer and targeted Galveston, I decided to leave ahead of the storm and spend the night at my parents house. They live in northwest Houston, I'm in southeast, about 40 miles away, and I'm about 30 miles from Galveston. I rode the storm out there and came back to my house on Saturday afternoon.

The stuff you're seeing on TV is probably Galveston, where the eye of the hurricane came ashore. It got hit hard. About 30 miles inland, where I am, we have a lot of downed trees and fences, damaged roofs and facades, and power outages. I've already got all my utilities back except internet (I'm borrowing my neighbor's wi-fi).

Damage to my house is, in the grand scheme of things, relatively cosmetic, but not cheap. I'm pretty sure I'll go past my deductible. I lost about half of the wooden fence around my house, and in falling down one piece knocked off a faucet in my back yard, causing water to gush out uncontrollably. My neighbors had to shut my water off at the street. The plumber couldn't make it until Monday morning (and had to cut a hole in my wall to fix the pipes) so I was without water for 2-1/2 days. My roof lost shingles in about a dozen places, some down to the tar paper beneath, some down to the plywood under that. Of course, that let water into the attic, where it flowed along the rafters and joints. I've got spots in 7 rooms or closets in areas ranging from fist sized to across the whole ceiling. I'm not sure if any of it needs replacing yet. The water also dripped down through my kitchen cabinets onto my stove and toaster oven, puddling on the counter.

Power came back on at my house on Sunday afternoon. I'm lucky, I was without power for only 36 hours. About 95% of the Houston area lost power, and I happened to be within the first 10% that got power back. But it's seemingly random, from street to street and even block by block some areas have it and some don't. My backyard neighbors do, but across the street from them, they don't. In those cases, there are orange extension cords running across the street from every house that has power to one that doesn't.

When not taking care of my house, I've been spending some time helping others, from helping to remove carpeting soaked with river water from a house that took on 3 feet of water to volunteering at the local delivery point where those without power can pick up free ice, water, and food.

I've also toured the area to see how badly others got hit. In general, the further south you go, the worse it was. You see the usual stuff like roofs missing shingles, brick walls fallen down, traffic lights mangled, etc., but also things like boats and yachts tossed up on to the lawn, the road, or each other. Low lying areas got flooded and the storm surge turned buildings into kindling. Even further south, towards Galveston, whole buildings are gone, down to the slab. Roads are washed away, and neighborhoods are giant debris fields. The mayor of Galveston has declared the city to be uninhabitable for now, with no power, water, sewer system, phone lines, cell towers, fuel, or food. Fortunately for the city of Houston, the storm hit on the east end of Galveston Island, meaning the worst of the winds and surge came up to the east (unfortunately for them). If the storm hadn't taken a jog to the east and had hit about 15 miles west, we would have gotten a 20 foot surge up into Galveston Bay and up into my area. But it did move east, so we only got about 10.

It's been 25 years since Houston got a direct hit from a hurricane, and this one was a lot worse in terms of the effects. After Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Rita threatened Houston not too long afterwards, and the city evacuated. Fortunately for us it was a false alarm, but the city learned a lot from that and we were much better prepared for this storm. With luck it'll be another 25 years until the next major hit.

For pictures I've taken over the last few days, here's a map of the area showing what's where (or click here for just the pictures).

Friday, September 12, 2008

On second thought

The latest models show storm surge a bit higher than I'm comfortable with:

I'm just a couple of miles to the west of the path as it crosses Clear Lake. The forecasts haven't changed in the last 12 hours, it's a direct hit on Galveston Island. Expecting 90 mph winds.

I think I'll bug out shortly and return Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Riding the Storm Out

Here's the latest forecast by the NASA weather guys:
IKE was forecasted to make landfall on the Texas coast on the west end of Galveston at 0200 Saturday morning, however with the newest update they have seen it shift to the east 15 miles. This eastward movement has been consistent with the last several updates. They are still expecting Tropical force winds at 1100 tomorrow morning. Hurricane force winds at JSC starting between 2200 and 2300 with sustained winds of 100 MPH between 0200 and 0600 on Saturday morning. They are projecting 8 to 10 inches of rain with a 13 to 15 foot storm surge in the Clear Lake area. This would occur when we are approaching low tide. They are expecting a 20 - 22 foot surge for the ship channel area.

The Eye of Ike Is Upon Me

Per the 4pm storm track, landfall will be over Galveston Island. Here's where the predicted storm track lies in relation to my house:

Should I stay or should I go?

Reposting earlier tweets from Twitter:
Noon - #ike trying to figure out best time to leave to minimize traffic, fwys are all backed up, will evac to W. Hou. Filled gas tank last nite.

12:15 - #ike Run from the water, hide from the wind: predicting 12-20 ft storm surge into Galveston Bay, 120 mph winds. Yikes!

1:30 - Hou traffic from #ike is too heavy, it's too hot, I'll wait til tonite to evac. Trip to parents house norm 45min but today could take hrs.

4:45 - #Ike now targeting Galveston, with eye moving over my house! Smaller storm surge but higher winds. Might hunker down instead of evacuate.

I haven't left yet, even though we had a mandatory evacuation at noon today.

The 4pm forecast has moved the landfall closer to Houston. Paradoxically, that might be better for me since it means lower storm surge. Might mean higher winds, though, and they're talking 100 mph. Zoinks! Traffic is better now, all of the inbound cars have passed through (like from Galveston) and now it's just the outbound freeways on the north and west that are clogged.

Maybe I'll set up my camera to record me on video looking like a TV reporter in the wind and rain.

Bug out

My zip code got the evacuation order, so I'll be boarding up and bugging out this afternoon. Hopefully the traffic isn't a mess.

Ruh roh

Crap. The 4am model has Ike even closer to Houston now.

The NHC winds forecast is ominous:

The sNHC wind model now predict 93 mph winds for my zip code 77062.

The models, though, are still all over the place:

The voices of reason here are Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle and Jeff Masters of Weather Underground. All the local weather people are freaking out.

Masters says
Tides have risen one foot above normal in Galveston too. The water level will continue to rise as Ike approaches Texas, and NOAA's experimental storm surge forecast (Figure 1) is calling for a 10% chance that the storm tide from Ike will reach 10-12 feet at Galveston, and 18-21 feet on the south and east sides of Houston.

Ike is likely to be a extremely dangerous major hurricane at landfall, and will likely do $10-$30 billion in damage. The chances of hundreds of people being killed in this storm is high if people do not heed evacuation orders. It is possible that Ike will make a direct hit on Galveston as a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds. The potential storm surge from such a hit could be in the 15-25 foot range (Figure 2), which is capable of overwhelming the 17 foot sea wall in Galveston. I put the odds of such an event at about 5%.

I Don't Like Ike

Ike doesn't look like it's going to be kind. After wandering all over the place, the models are narrowing down the landfall of Hurricane Ike and as of this writing, it's going to hit at the worst possible spot for Houston, about 50 miles south (though of course that could change by morning). That makes Galveston Bay the focal point for the storm surge, not to mention the fact that it's also the quadrant that gets the worst of the wind and rain (the "dirty" side). My house will supposedly be safe through a 20 foot storm surge.

They're closing NASA/JSC at noon Thursday so I have a long weekend - unfortunately it will be spent boarding, shopping, hunkering, and cleaning. I guess I'll start boarding up in the afternoon or Friday morning. My boards are already cut (I did that for Rita 3 years ago) so all I have to do is screw them in. When my house was built they put those plastic drywall screw hole thingies in the mortar between bricks so it's easy to put the board up against the window and then use the power drill to put a few screws in. Unfortunately I can't get to my upstairs windows, but I've got trees and houses in the way of debris (hopefully).

I'm hoping for winds strong enough to ruin the shingles on my roof, but in a manner that I don't get rain damage in the attic. My roof is 20 years old and I'll need to replace it probably sooner than later.

There were already lines at the gas station. I don't have much food in the house (I need to go shopping anyway) but I've got frozen steaks and burgers in case the power goes out.

The 10pm forecast has the storm moving closer to Houston. It's now forecast to hit in Freeport, about 50 miles south of here. That's the worst possible location for a storm to hit (for us) since that means the storm surge at its highest would come right up Galveston Bay, plus that's the rainy/windy/dirty side of the hurricane.

The UT/Arkansas game has been postponed til Sept. 27th, we both had an open date that weekend. That was supposed to be our bye week in between Rice and Oklahoma.

Eric Berger from the Houston Chronicle has been the only voice of reason around here. All the TV weathermen are freaking out. I think they want the hurricane to hit so they can look all professional. Expect all the reporters to be out in the wind and rain telling us we ought to stay out of the wind and rain.

If they call for an evacuation, they'll be using this map. I'm in the green zone which means they'll call for me to leave for a Cat 4 or 5 (zip code 77062). If you look on the map at I-45 coming north from Galveston and go to the black arrowhead after the I-45 symbol, that's Clear Lake City Blvd. I live pretty close to where that brown road segment ends.

Winds are supposed to pick up here around noon Friday, with landfall early Saturday morning. If people wait til Friday they could get stuck on the roads again just like with Rita three years ago (and just a few posts down on this page).

Assuming I have electricity and internet, I'll probably try to liveblog the storm here (if it's worthwhile to do so). If I lose internet, I can at least Twitter (@mgrabois) via cell phone or send text/SMS messages with pictures here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Shitty Mix Tapes

Not quite sure how I found it, but Paige is having a contest for the worst 5-song mix tape imaginable. Here's my entry. Full disclosure: every one of these is on my iPod.

We start out by setting the mood...
1. I'm Too Sexy (Right Said Fred)
Nothing says "I love you baby" like talking about how sexy you are compared to her cat.

2. Run Joey Run (David Geddes)
A tender tale of teenage love, except in this one the father accidentally shoots and kills his daughter while trying to shoot her boyfriend.

3. Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Settin' the stage for some lovin'. "My motto's always been; when it's right, it's right. Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?"

4. Sweet Transvestite (from Rocky Horror Picture Show)
"I'm not much of a man by the light of day, But by night I'm one hell of a lover". Yeah, this is the right song to send that message.

5. Who Let the Dogs Out (Baha Men)
Let's have fun!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Til Gabriel Blows His Horn"

"The Eyes of Texas"

Texas 41, USC 38.


I couldn't stop pacing throughout the fourth quarter, even though I knew Vince Young would pull it out. Simply amazing. Passing, 267 yards. Just another day at the office. Rushing, 200 yards. Jaw-dropping.

They said Mack Brown couldn't win the big one, you can't get any bigger than this.

And I finally won my annual Las Vegas bet on Texas winning the National Championship. Woohoo, $35!

It's nice to start the New Year with good stuff like this. A nice change from the way the last year ended. A good omen, perhaps.