The National Hurricane Center foresees a 20-foot surge for a large swath of Texas. Above that, the center predicts “large and dangerous battering waves.”
Storm surges reached 16 feet during 2005’s Hurricane Rita, which hit just east of Galveston.
Hurricane center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen says Ike’s waves could be 50 feet tall, and some computer models have waves topping out at 70 feet. But the waves usually break well before hitting shore so the maximum usually doesn’t get quite that high.
Hurricane experts say Ike’s gargantuan size, not its strength, will likely push an extra large storm surge inland in a region already prone to it.
Its giant girth means more water piling up on Texas and Louisiana coastal areas for a longer time, topped with bigger waves. The National Hurricane Center says that means the storm surge, the prime killer in hurricanes, will be far worse than a typical storm of Ike’s strength.
And experts say that because coastal waters in Texas and Louisiana are so shallow, storm surge is usually larger there than in other regions. A 1900 hurricane following a similar track to Ike inundated Galveston Island, killing at least 8,000 people as America’s deadliest storm.
In Surfside Beach, a coastal community about 40 miles south of Galveston, the police chief was so worried that the entire force planned to ride out the storm inland.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but if I did, I think it would tell me a sad story. And that story would be that were faced with devastation of a catastrophic range,” said Chief Randy Smith. “I think we’re going to see a storm like most of us haven’t seen.”