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Weather
Hurricane Ike Post Storm Update
Issued by the Jamaica Baeach Weather Observatory
Thursday, September 25, 2008

It is with the greatest sadness that I have to report to you that the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory was destroyed by the storm surge, wave action and hurricane force winds of Hurricane Ike on September 12-13, 2008.  The tidal surge reached all the way up to the second floor (residential/office portion) of the building.  Most of the weather instrumentation and computers were also destroyed by the hurricane when several windows blew in and rain and wind destroyed the digital instrument displays.
 
One week ago today, I accompanied the National Weather Service to west Galveston Island in an effort to hopefully retrieve vital weather information recorded during the passage of the hurricane at the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory that was still on battery backup.  When we arrived, it looked as though a bomb had been detonated in Jamaica Beach and the surrounding areas with major to, in some cases, catastrophic damage to nearly every structure.
 
The Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory was no exception.  At ground level, every single thing was completely destroyed and swept away by the storm surge.  There are no walls remaining, the stairway to the second floor is gone, utilility connections are sheared off with wires dangling and debris is scattered everywhere.  Every single boat in the neighborhood floated out of their lift and ended up adrift to locations unknown.  On the second floor, tidewater from the storm surge entered the building to a depth of several inches based on still water marks in the interior portion of the residence.  The floor and carpet are buckled upward in several places and it appeared the building may have been partially buoyant during the peak of the hurricane storm surge.
 
Based on a known structural engineer's 1980 second floor elevation of 13.79 ft above Mean Sea Level (MSL), we determined the storm surge reached a height of at least 14 feet on the bay side of Jamaica Beach at the weather station.  I know there were many initial reports immediately after the hurricane that the storm surge reached only 9 feet here but I assure you these reports were totally inaccurate.  Even without the known elevation information above, marsh grass is visible over 10 feet in the air wedged in the slats of the weather station's 43 foot high anemometer (wind instrument) tower.  A more exact storm surge elevation level will be determined later when more detailed surveys are conducted.
 
All of the digital weather instruments were destroyed when 5 windows shuttered with storm shutters on the west and north side of the building blew in or were struck by very heavy debris (presumably boats and large floating objects).  This allowed heavy rain and hurricane force winds to blow throughout the interior of the building .  So, what the water didn't destroy, the winds did.  Debris is mangled everywhere inside.  To further illustrate the power and height of the storm surge, a 6-horsepower 33-gallon air compressor (weighing about 75 pounds) that was downstairs in the laundry room actually floated up to the second floor deck on the opposite side of the building where it remains now.  the only reason it didn't float away completely is that the air hose became entangled around a piling.
 
The top of the rain gauge blew off during the hurricane rendering an accurate manual measurement of the rainfall impossible.  However, one of the digital rain gauges had 12.49 inches of rain displayed on it when I arrived at the station...although it too was damaged.
 
The only weather instrument that I still have a record of anything from the hurricane was the microbarograph.  This instrument records a continuous recording of the barometric pressure on a chart affixed to a rotating drum.  However, the pressure fell so low that it fell below the chart's minimum reading of 965 millibars so the exact lowest pressure will never be known.  On the other hand, the rapidity of the pressure fall is absolutely spectacular on the chart.
 
I am using the Internet for the first time in two weeks via a computer at a branch of the Houston Public Library and will have to finish reporting to you later when I have regular access to the Internet again.  In the meantime, I will be staying at a hotel in Houston until further notice.  I am scheduled to meet with one of my insurance adjusters tomorrow (Friday) and I will have a better idea of what my long-term future plans are (whether to rebuild or not) based on the outcome of that meeting.
 
As bad as my situation is, I know there are many people who have it much worse than me...especially those on the Bolivar Peninsula and parts of Chambers County where absolutely everything is gone.  If I had to guess, I'd say that tides in that area easily were in the neighborhood of 20 feet.  I also feel very badly for my neighbors elsewhere throughout Galveston Island and the surrounding mainland communities.  After we surveyed my damage, the National Weather Service and I surveyed damage at Scholes International Airport and the surrounding neighborhoods.
 
In the Gulf Village subdivision near 69th St and Stewart Rd, we observed a water line of approximately 4 to 5 feet deep inside a residence from the storm surge there.  Based on ground elevations in that area, we estimated a storm surge of around 15 ft to 16 ft in that area.  This is much higher than what occurred in the same neighborhood during Hurricane Carla in 1961.  Therefore, this was the highest known storm surge on Galveston Island since the Category Four hurricane of August 16-17, 1915.
 
That's all for now.  Whenever I get a replacement computer, I will pass along damage photos and a picture of the mirobarograph trace.  You can also log on to the Jamaica Beach Weather Observatory web site and view the very last web cam image before power was lost on the afternoon of the 12th.  The tide is already about 5 to 6 feet above normal in the photo...when only 12 hours previously (when I evacuated), the ground was completely dry.  You will also notice dark clouds or smoke in the photo.  I don't know which it is...but 3 houses did burn completely to the ground about 2 blocks north of the weather station sometime during the course of the storm.
 
I hope all of you are managing as well as can be expected under these very trying circumstances and that your recovery process proceeds as quickly as possible.
 
Jim O'Donnel



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Galveston Islander Magazine


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