Several workshops during day one of the National Hurricane Conference illustrated the importance of knowing the historical impacts of hurricanes in your area.
The first workshop focused on historical databases and tools to access and display the data. An aspect of this data that people often forget is how much more data is available since the start of the satellite era compared to the past. Prior to the 1960s we did not measure the peak winds or central pressure directly unless the storm moved over land or an unfortunate ship. Hurricane Hunters began safely flying into even the strongest hurricane beginning in the late 1950s. Then full-time satellite coverage came into existence by the early 1970s. One study showed that of the 12 category 5 hurricanes in the data of recent years, only three would have been analyzed as such in the early days. This leads us to believe there is a low bias in the intensity data for storms prior to the advent of satellites.
One speaker from the NOAA Coastal Services Center in Charleston, SC, demonstrated an on line application for viewing hurricane history.
A second workshop provided detailed insight on a range of storms that have occurred on the Gulf Coast with a focus on Louisiana. Our upper Texas coast shares some similar characteristics to Louisiana so it is useful to learn from the events to our east. Storm surge risk was an issue that was covered in detail as the most significant risk we face. The highest levels of storm surge historically observed are concentrated on the Gulf coast from the Florida Panhandle through Texas. The main reasons for this are the long and shallow continental shelf and the frequency of big hurricanes.
The graphic above demonstrates just how many big surge events have happened in our relatively short period of record. We have a big share of the big ones right here on the upper Texas coast.
Wednesday's sessions will focus on the lessons from Isaac and Sandy.