Here comes hurricane season

GALVESTON, TX BE PREPARED: Get your hurricane preparation guide

Like many of those who proudly proclaim themselves BOI -- born on the island -- Worthen puts more stock in local storm-watchers.

"A lot of people have their own charts, have kept their own maps for years," Worthen, 31, said from behind the counter at the family-run Aunt Margie's Bait Shop near the seawall designed to keep a storm-tossed Gulf of Mexico from swamping Galveston. "My dad's kept maps for 12 years. I'm not worried. I trust my dad a lot more than the weather people."

Widely publicized hurricane forecaster William Gray is calling for a "well above average" Atlantic storm season this year, including four major storms among 15 named storms.

There's a better than average chance that at least one major hurricane will hit the United States, says Gray, who retired from Colorado State University in 2004 but continues to work with the hurricane research team there.

While such forecasts might cause some to fear catastrophes akin to the devastating 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita, they tend to roll off the backs of folks on this island just southeast of Houston.

Paul Pool, a retired engineer who lives in a home on stilts at Pirates Beach, is among the critics of Gray's forecasts.

"Those of us who live here know better," said Pool, 53. "He doesn't know what he's talking about. Let's see. how many hurricanes did he predict last year? And how many did we have here? Duh!"

The only hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. last year hit just up the coast, sparing Galveston but sloshing ashore as a minimal Category 1 storm at High Island, about midway between Galveston and Port Arthur.

Pool grew up in the Houston-Galveston area and remembers his first big storm, Hurricane Carla, in 1961. He was in the third grade. Now, if a storm is threatening, he monitors a NOAA weather radio and decides for himself when or if he needs to pack up and flee.

"I don't keep anything of value here -- kayaks, golf cart, cheap TV, stuff like that," he said. "If it goes, it goes. And I pay a heck of a lot of insurance."

For Galvestonians like Worthen and Pool, Hurricane Alicia in 1983 is the last big storm to leave an impression.

"We got walloped," Worthen said.

Alicia was the only major hurricane that year, making landfall in August as a low Category 3 storm. It left 21 people dead and more than $2.6 billion in damages to the Houston-Galveston area.

By the time it reached Houston, inland about 50 miles, it had downgraded to Category 2.

According to John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and the Texas state climatologist, the Houston area has not taken a direct hit from a Category 3 storm or higher in 65 years.

Long-term statistics show Houston, home to some 5 million people, should be slammed by a major hurricane about once every 21 years.

"Statistically, the Houston area has been very, very lucky," he says.

The past two years have been calmer-than-normal hurricane seasons and forecast numbers have exceeded the actual number of storms. An average season would have 11 named storms, six of them hurricanes and two achieving major status of at least Category 3, meaning winds clocking at least 111 mph.

Also on average, any Texas coastal county will receive a hurricane landfall at least once in every decade, Nielsen-Gammon said.

He said La Nina, the climatic phenomenon of cooling some surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, could become a factor this year. When that occurs, hurricanes in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean tend to be especially active.

"There's a La Nina out there right now, but it's been weakening," he said. "I think we'll get a much better picture of what the hurricane season is going to be like in a few months."

Some have pointed to global warming as another possible influence.

"Please!" scoffs Pool. "This climate has been changing since the beginning of time. We had an ice age, and we don't now."

"There are a lot of studies being done on this topic right now," Nielsen-Gammon said. "But the problem with hurricanes is not just global warming. They do enough damage, with or without global warming."

All the predictions and speculation is just weather hype to 70-year-old Bob McMurry, who owns a couple of Economy Liquor Stores on Galveston.

While acknowledging the island is overdue for a big blow, he believes the long-range forecasts can contribute to unnecessary anxiety.

"It doesn't change things," he said. "I'm not sitting here telling them what to say, but I do think it's gotten to be a bit overworked."

      Headlines at a glance | 100 most recent local stories | RSS feeds
              Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes
Copyright © 2023 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.