Hurricane Ike, blamed for dozens of deaths in Cuba and, primarily, Haiti, is growing rapidly stronger in the Gulf of Mexico, as it nears landfall sometime late Friday on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Currently a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds, Hurricane Ike could reach Category 3 strength before landfall, the National Hurricane Center has warned. Other commentators see the potential for even worse:
"Ike is likely to be a extremely dangerous major hurricane at landfall, and will likely do $10-$30 billion in damage," writes Jeff Masters, a well-read Weather Underground expert and blogger. "The chances of hundreds of people being killed in this storm is high if people do not heed evacuation orders. It is possible that Ike will make a direct hit on Galveston as a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds. The potential storm surge from such a hit could be in the 15-25 foot range (Figure 2), which is capable of overwhelming the 17 foot sea wall in Galveston. I put the odds of such an event at about 5%."
Everyone is marveling at Hurricane Ike's size. Tropical storm-force winds are being registered 255 miles from the eye of the storm, and satellite images show the storm engulfing the eastern half of the Gulf of Mexico.
Thousands of people are being evacuated from Galveston, Corpus Christi and other areas on the Texas Gulf Coast. The region, prone to hurricane damage, was hit by a billion-dollar storm already this year, Hurricane Dolly, but there are also memories of Great Storm of 1900, a Category 4 monster that left thousands dead and virtually wiped Galveston off the map. That storm's anniversary was just days ago, Sept. 8.
Hurricane Ike Projected Path / National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Ike is the fifth hurricane to form in the Atlantic basin in 2008, and it was the most powerful yet to make landfall, when it struck Cuba. Before Ike, there had been four deadly storms in the Atlantic, Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav, Hanna and Tropical Storm Fay. Hanna, which is blamed for at least 163 deaths in Haiti, and possibly more than 500, is the deadliest storm so far.p>Behind Ike, Tropical Storm Josephine dissipated earlier this week, and in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Lowell has been downgraded to a tropical depression as it heads toward Baja California.
The Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane season is only now at its traditional peak. Already there have been 10 named storms, including five hurricanes (Bertha, Dolly, Gustav, Hanna and Ike), three of them major (Bertha, Gustav and Ike).
The latest government forecast called for 14 to 18 named storms, seven to 10 of which would become hurricanes, three to six of them major.
The suddenly active, and dangerous, spate of storms has reignited the debate over global warming's link to hurricanes in the Atlantic. There has been conflicting science on the issue, with some studies suggesting hurricanes will become stronger or more frequent, or that they will produce more rain, because of warmer ocean temperatures. Other studies suggest they will become less frequent because of competing influences.
Last week, a Florida State team of scientists added a study in support of the global warming-stronger hurricane link, and the Associated Press quoted some experts stating that the strength of Hurricane Gustav and other hurricanes could be seen in some ways as a result of global warming.
While experts disagree over the global warming link, they are unanimous in their warning about coastal development in hurricane-prone areas. As sprawl has reached once-remote coastlines, the number of people at risk from hurricanes has grown greatly.
Here's a look at the season in the Atlantic so far:
1. Tropical Storm Arthur formed quickly on May 31 off Belize, lost tropical storm strength in fewer than 24 hours, and brought punishing rains of 10-15 inches to parts of the Yucatán Peninsula, including Mexico and Guatemala.
2. Hurricane Bertha formed as a tropical storm July 3 in the far eastern Atlantic, then debuted as the Atlantic's first hurricane July 7 and quickly grew to major hurricane status. By the time it affected land, July 14 in Bermuda, it was a strong tropical storm, causing rough surf and 3-5 inches of rain. It broke the record for longest-lived July storm and on July 18 reformed into a hurricane.
3. Tropical Storm Cristobal formed on July 19 off the coast of the Carolinas. The first named storm to threaten the U.S. coast, Cristobal threatened 3-5 inches of rain and strong storm surges across South and North Carolina.
4. Hurricane Dolly reached Category 2 strength in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall near the Texas-Mexico border July 23, 2008. Heavy rains and wind led to at least one death, flooding and damage in Texas and in neighboring states that may exceed $1 billion.
5. Tropical Storm Edouard formed August 3 in the Gulf of Mexico and though forecasters predicted strengthening and it passed by critical oil infrastructure, it was largely welcomed for relieving drought conditions in some parts of Texas and Louisiana.
6. Tropical Storm Fay formed August 15 off the coast of the Dominican Republic and killed 35 people there and in Haiti before making a record five landfalls in Florida, where it killed 11 before moving on as a tropical depression, killing at least one in Georgia.
7. Hurricane Gustav formed August 25 off the coast of Haiti and reached hurricane strength Aug. 26 before making landfall there. It has been blamed for dozens of deaths in the Caribbean, making it the deadliest tropical storm of 2008 in the Atlantic to date, even before it reached the Gulf Coast, where 2 million evacuated in preparation.
8. Hurricane Hanna formed August 28 in the Central Atlantic and briefly attained hurricane strength Sept. 1. The storm was blamed for at least 163 deaths, and possibly more than 500, in Haiti. As a tropical storm, Hanna drenched the U.S. East Coast.
9. Hurricane Ike formed September 1 and reached major Category 4 hurricane status Sept. 3. After losing some strength, Ike regained Category 4 hurricane status as it made landfall in the Bahamas Sept. 7. It has been blamed for dozens of deaths in Haiti, and is expected to strike Texas, possibly as a Category 3 storm.
10. Tropical Storm Josephine formed Sept. 2, with both Hanna and Ike also active in the Atlantic, but dissipated before affecting land.
Kyle - Laura - Marco - Nana - Omar - Paloma - Rene - Sally - Teddy - Vicky - Wilfred
1. Tropical Storm Alma brought heavy rains and winds to the Central American nations of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala after forming May 29.
2. Hurricane Boris formed near Baja California and headed west into the Pacific, before reaching hurricane strength July 1.
3. Tropical Storm Cristina formed near Hawaii June 29 but dissipated before making landfall.
4. Tropical Storm Douglas formed July 2 and threatened to dump heavy rains on portions of southwest Mexico.
5. Hurricane Elida formed July 12 as a tropical storm and became the season's second Pacific hurricane July 14 when it became a weak Category 1 storm tracking westward from Mexico.
6. Hurricane Fausto formed as a tropical storm July 16 off the coast of Mexico. Like other 2008 Pacific hurricanes, the third of the year did not affect land.
7. Hurricane Genevieve formed in the Pacific Ocean, more than 580 miles off the coast of Mexico, on July 25, 2008. The fourth hurricane in the eastern Pacific, it did not affect land.
8. Hurricane Hernan formed August 6 hundreds of miles from Baja California and reached hurricane strength Aug. 8. On Aug. 9, it reached Category 3 status, the first major hurricane of 2008 in the Pacific. It lost hurricane Strength Aug. 11 and dissipated Aug. 12.
9. Tropical Storm Iselle formed August 13.
10. Tropical Storm Julio formed August 23 and made landfall in Baja California Aug. 24.
11. Tropical Storm Karina formed Sept. 2 in the eastern Pacific, and dissipated within about 12 hours.
12. Tropical Storm Lowell formed Sept. 6 in the eastern Pacific, and could reach hurricane strength, though it isn't expected to affect land.
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