We are rapidly nearing the statistical peak of hurricane season (September 10) and, if you were unclear what that means, no doubt the last few days have caught you up. As of writing this, Hurricane Marco is crossing the central Gulf of Mexico on a path toward Louisiana. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Laura is grazing the southern coastline of Cuba on its way into the Gulf for a date with somewhere along the Texas or Louisiana coast.
It's really busy out there, particularly in our neck of the woods. For those who aren't particularly fond of bad weather, some who may still have PTSD about Hurricane Harvey and others who may be new to this whole hurricane thing, no doubt you are concerned, perhaps overly so.
We don't want to try and confuse you with lots of talk of forecast models and scientific explanations of intensity modeling. The guys at Space City Weather are the best for doing that.
However, what we can do is assuage your fears a bit about a few things. We cannot promise a major hurricane won't be knocking at our door this week, but we can help you to manage your panic and direct it correctly. Here are some things the vast majority of us should not be worrying about.
When we talk about storm sure, we refer to the large swell of ocean water pushed onshore during a hurricane. It can increase high tides 10, 15, even 20 feet, as we saw in some places with Hurricane Ike. And, yes, if you live near an area that is prone to surge, this should be a serious concern. But, anywhere outside of those surge zones, this is not an issue. In fact, that is particularly important because storm surge is what kills most people during hurricanes, not the force of winds despite how scary they might look.
Speaking of those scary winds, this is one significant threat from a hurricane, were it to strike near us. But, don't focus on the highest winds for good reason. Hurricane force winds are indeed destructive. Straight line winds over 70 mph sustained for hours can down trees and knock out power lines, but houses in Houston are certainly built to withstand that. What freaks us all out are the reports of 110-120 mph winds that mow down trees and topple homes. Even if a major hurricane hit Houston, those winds would only cover a rather small area to the north and west of the eye wall. From there, winds would radiate out and lessen the farther you are from the center. Unless you are in a direct line of the storm relatively close to the water (storms tend to decrease in intensity rather rapidly over land), your chances of seeing the devastating winds of a major hurricane are still rather low.
Unless you are in an evacuation zone or you have health and safety issues beyond stormy conditions, you probably need to stay put. During 2005's Hurricane Rita scare, thousands and thousands of people crowded area highways, many stuck on them for 24 hours or more. Some evacuation routes have improved since then, but the last thing we need are people living in Copperfield freaking out and trying to drive to Dallas. Not only is it potentially dangerous for you and people who actually need to evacuate — quite a few people died trying to get out of the Houston area back in 2005 and the storm didn't even hit here — you are undoubtedly safer at home.
As worrisome as Laura might be, this is not Harvey. Harvey was a VERY unique situation with a storm that meandered around for days dumping buckets of water on the area. Laura should move through rather quickly. Low lying areas and those prone to flooding will do what they do even in strong Texas thunderstorms, but most other areas will still little to no flooding even if we take a direct hit, which is still up in the air.
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