Our hearts go out to the people along the Texas-Louisiana border as they are going to be devastated by the unreal power of Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Laura. As of this writing, the hurricane was already a deadly powerful Category 4 storm with a massive 20-foot-plus storm surge that will undoubtedly kill many people and leave entire communities decimated in its wake.
For Houston, we will get off with some breeze and a shower or two. We got very, very lucky.
In fact, maybe luckier than we know because Houston is absolutely not ready for the big one, not by a long shot. Eric Berger from Space City Weather spelled out the sobering reality on Twitter Wednesday morning.
Here’s some real talk. If a 145-mph Laura were to make landfall in Freeport or San Luis pass, Houston as we know it would be pretty much gone. Surge inundating Galveston Bay, energy assets. Wind damage across the entire city. Power outages for weeks to months. We are unprepared.
— Eric Berger (@SpaceCityWX) August 26, 2020
A 20-foot storm surge would potentially drown the entire petrochemical epicenter on Houston’s east side. The Port of Houston would be devastated. With those type of winds, trees would be flattened across much of the city and hundreds of thousands of homes would be damaged, some wiped out entirely. And that is not remotely an exaggeration.
Imagine the entire city without power for weeks, some areas for months. There would undoubtedly be portions of Houston simply leveled with some neighborhoods disappearing for good. It would completely reshape the entire region.
Thing is, we should have learned our lesson. In 2008, Hurricane Ike gave us our first glimpse at a serious hurricane in more than 20 years. We saw portions of the Bolivar Peninsula nearly wiped off the map, Galveston in shambles despite the seawall and power out for weeks for portions of Houston. And Ike was a baby compared to Laura.
Then, in 2017, the city was buried under several feet of water from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, with parts of the region still recovering three years later.
Still, we debate. The concept of a wall or dyke in Galveston Bay to protect areas upstream like the Ship Channel from dangerous storm surge has been widely discussed. There have been reports of progress on talks related to that and a chain of man-made barrier islands constructed in the bay recently, but it will take billions of dollars and years to complete.
We also still have yet to fully address our flooding infrastructure in Houston with bold strategies that are necessary to preserve the entire region, from building another reservoir to expanded bayou channels to simply removing development near waterways. And speaking of development, we keep building in harm’s way and without the kind of stringent codes that make sure homes are not just safe from water but wind if a devastating storm like Laura ever took direct aim at the Bayou City. It is a recipe for disaster.
This should absolutely be our number one, two and three priority in Houston. Nothing is more important. Nothing will do more to save lives and safeguard property, never mind preventing an economic collapse the city might not be able to survive. And don’t start talking about how difficult it will be or how much it will cost. We dug a ditch to the ocean and made it the biggest port in America. We invented the artificial heart. We build the first air conditioned stadium. We have Mattress Mac, for God’s sake!
It’s time we start finding ways to live with water through bold, progressive approaches like what has been done in cities like Holland. Stop acting like the mayor in Jaws , pretending a massive storm isn’t going to come up and bite us on the ass. Eventually it will.
We got lucky this time. Eventually, our luck is going to run out.