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Morning Coffee Looks At Hurricane Ike

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UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, 9 PM --  Texas officials have canceled the Texas-Arkansas game.


A special edition of Morning Coffee on the Hurricane Ike situation.

All eyes on Ike. Though any potential Hurricane Ike impact on football might normally be the lead angle for a sports blog like this one, there's enough worrisome data out there that game delays have to be a secondary concern. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground has a sobering report on the worst-case scenario facing the Texas coast:

There is a significant chance that Ike will be the worst hurricane to hit Texas in over 40 years. The latest run of the HWRF and GFDL models paint a realistic worst-case scenario for Texas. These models bring Ike to the coast as a Category 4 hurricane (which I give a 20% probability of happening). The HWRF predicts a 170-mile stretch of coast will receive hurricane force winds of 74 mph or greater. A 100-mile stretch of coast will receive winds of Category 3 strength and higher, 115 mph. Hurricane force winds will push inland up to 50 miles, along a 50-mile wide region where the eyewall makes landfall. A 100-mile stretch of Texas coast will receive a storm surge of 10-15 feet, with bays just to the right of where the eye makes landfall receiving a 20-25 foot storm surge. This is what Hurricane Carla of 1961 did to Texas. Carla was a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds at landfall, and drove a 10 foot or higher storm surge to a 180-mile stretch of Texas coast.

Most of that's a foreign language to me, but I can read and process "worst hurricane to hit Texas in over 40 years" just fine. As big a concern as violent winds and heavy rains are on their own, Masters points out elsewhere in his post that the biggest danger for the Texas coast lies in its vulnerability to storm surges.

The Texas coast is highly vulnerable to large storm surges, due to the long expanse of shallow Continental Shelf waters offshore. The shallow depths allow large the swirling winds of the hurricane to pile up huge mounds of water, which then sweep inland when the hurricane makes landfall. Even Category 1 hurricanes are capable of generating 15 foot storm surges along some sections of the Texas coast.

Given the National Hurricane Center's warning that "the greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from the storm surge," Texans up and down the coast are and should be concerned about where Hurricane Ike actually makes landfall.

The latest computer models (Tuesday, 11 PM EDT) have Hurricane Ike hitting the Texas coast somewhere between Corpus Christi and Galveston late Friday night/early Saturday morning.

UT Athletics Department faces tough decision. After receiving "many inquiries" about Hurricane Ike's potential impact on weekend sporting events, the Texas Athletics Department issued a statement Tuesday night confirming their awareness of the situation. Though no decisions have been made, "The department is monitoring the weather forecasts and will act accordingly. Any changes to the current schedules will be announced on and/or"

If Hurricane Ike followed the path currently projected by the models, it seems almost sure there would be no football in Austin on Saturday. Though that might prompt some to ask (quite reasonably) why UT wouldn't just cancel the game now, the nature of these storms makes it prudent to wait as long as is safe to make any big decisions: Though hurricane projecting has dramatically improved over the last 20 years, "the average error in the National Hurricane Center's track forecasts is near 260 miles" at four days outside expected landfall.

In other words, under the right circumstances, Hurricane Ike's projected path could by lunchtime tomorrow drastically lurch south-southwest as quickly as it veered north towards the Texas coast Tuesday afternoon. 

Practically speaking, that means University of Texas officials will watch tomorrow morning for any signs of change before making any decisions. If experts continue to project a Texas coast landfall late Friday/early Saturday, it may prove difficult not to cancel Saturday's football game. Regardless of Ike's impact on Central Texas, UT officials will have to consider fans who might be planning to travel to this weekend's game. One option would be to wait on any cancellation decisions while issuing an advisory that fans outside Central Texas should not travel to the game.

More likely, if Ike remains projected towards the Texas coast and evacuations appear imminent, officials may just decide tomorrow on a precautionary cancellation of Saturday's game. Relevant to the inquiry: Texas and Arkansas have open dates September 27th, making a re-scheduled contest perfectly feasible.

If I'm a UT official facing a close call and looking for a potentially decisive factor... this is probably it.

We'll see.