TAMUG professor predicts impact of hurricanes based on their origin
Galveston, TX — With June 1 and the start of hurricane season just days away, Dr. William Merrell, a veteran marine scientist at Texas A&M University at Galveston says being aware of perceptions of time and source of a storm can make a difference to people living in the Upper Gulf coast area.
“Do not take the early part of the hurricane season lightly and when storms form just outside our back door pay careful attention,” says William Merrell, who holds the George P. Mitchel ’40 Chair in Marine Sciences and has more than 35 years of experience in studying storms. “These storms can be deadly. It’s a strange part of human nature, but at the beginning of the hurricane season in June, we are not yet conditioned to hurricane dangers even though we know from past experience the true threat of hurricane season,” Merrell says. “Our minds allow us to forget past hurricanes, when weather is clear and no storms are forecast.”
“Even though we know better, we are often unprepared when hurricane season starts,” Merrell adds.
“The fact that we have the “benefit” of watching an Atlantic hurricane slowly approach us can lull us into complacency,” he says. “These storms cause destruction and build concern among weather forecasters, but we here on the Gulf coast have time to plan for their possible impact. This is not the case for a Gulf-born hurricane. In thinking we have time to prepare, we are caught by surprise, time and time again, when a storm forms in the Gulf early in the season.”
In recent years, Merrell has proposed his idea of an “Ike Dike” – a large movable set of gates -- to prevent storm surge from damaging Galveston Bay.
June is the busiest month on record for Gulf-originated storms making landfall in Texas while Atlantic hurricanes peak in September, Merrell points out. The upper coast of Texas has experienced major hurricanes that made landfall within 72 hours after reaching hurricane status in the Gulf of Mexico, he adds.
Merrell says two Gulf-formed hurricanes, the 1932 Storm that hit near Galveston and the 1957 storm, Hurricane Audrey, illustrate how dangerous Gulf storms can be.
The 1932 Gulf hurricane that hit near Galveston formed off Yucatan about two and one-half days before it hit. On August 13 around midnight local time, the 1932 Storm reached the status of a Category 1 hurricane about 240 miles away from the coast.
The hurricane rapidly gained intensity, becoming a Category2 six hours later. In another six hours, it became a Category 3 — a major hurricane. The 1932 Storm finally made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the evening of August 14, killing about 40 people and causing extensive damage to Freeport, Angleton and Galveston.
Hurricane Audrey was a very fast-moving Gulf hurricane that made landfall on the coast near the Texas-Louisiana border in June of 1957.
Audrey was between a Category 1 and Category 2 hurricane as it initially moved through the Gulf. It suddenly gained intensity to a Category 4 hurricane about 125 miles off the coast and six hours later she made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane causing catastrophic damages in eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Audrey was the sixth deadliest hurricane in the history of the United States killing between 416 and 550 people.
Merrell says that although history repeats itself, hurricanes have greater impact in the 21st century.
“Higher population densities mean that 2011 versions of these storms could be even more devastating to both life and property,” he says. “Bottom line, fellow Upper Texas coasters, if a Gulf storm heads this way, expect it to accelerate and intensify rapidly. Plan to respond to a Gulf hurricane that approaches as a Category 1 or Category 2, just as you would for an Atlantic hurricane that approaches as a Category 4 or Category 5.
Texas A&M University at Galveston is the maritime and marine-based branch campus of Texas A&M University. It is a special purpose institution offering academic programs, research and service in marine and maritime studies. TAMUG is home to the Texas Maritime Academy, the only maritime academy located on the Gulf Coast. TAMUG students are known as “Sea Aggies” and like their College Station counter parts, receive the Aggie Ring and a Texas A&M University.