Calhoun’s Cannons The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA for July 4, 07
Isaac’s Storm Redux
Nature will win if we decide we can beat it.
Bill Read, NOA Weather Service.
The June 24, 07 L.A. Times story made me blow coffee through my nose in a gleeful snort. The picture that accompanied the story looked as if a HUGE Carnival Cruise ship had parked smack dab in the middle of a quaint Victorian village. It was Galveston’s docks, cruise ship central and, if plans by Galveston’s myopic civic leaders continue, it will be the future home of a huge new development – as the story continued – that has geologists warning of “ building along beaches that are likely to be erased by erosion within 30 years” and that constructing “artificial lakes and boat channels could help surging waters pierce the island during a major hurricane, possibly even splitting it in two”
Above all, the geologists have warned that the civic leaders “of this fast eroding barrier island – the scene of the deadliest hurricane in American history – are about to approve 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotels despite geologists’ warnings that the massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the islands natural storm shield.”
Happily eyeing all the nice tax money that will accrue to such a development, Galveston’s officials are apparently bent on ignoring a couple of key things: Past & Future.
As for the past, on Sept 8, 1900, a Category 4 hurricane swept through Galveston. The death toll has been estimated to have been between 6-12,000 people (By comparison Hurricane Katrina caused about 1,600 deaths).
According to a Wikipedia entry, Mr. Isaac Cline, the Galveston Weather Bureau Section Director, had written an article in the Galveston Daily News a few years previously “in which he argues not only that a sea wall was not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island . . . the sea wall was not built, and development activities on the island actually increased its vulnerability to storms.”
Tragic irony: Mr. Cline lost his wife when his home was swept away during that terrible night, a tale chronicled in Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm.
So much for the Past. As for the Future, the good boosters of Galveston’s new plan apparently are unaware that something called Global Warming is upon us, bringing with it a rise in both sea levels and hurricane strength. For communities that are considerably above present sea levels, a degree of sanguinity about sea surge would be understandable. After all, glittering tax money from the developer’s hand always outweighs future tax-payer-financed clean-ups in the disastrous bush.
But for communities that lie at or below present sea levels? That blindness can only be described as comic.
In the case of Galveston, it’s coffee-through-the nose funny. Here’s the Times again: “’You would think that we would know better,” said the [planning] commissioner, Chula Sanchez. ‘I expected the city to be a little bit more enlightened than this. We have an eroding economy and an eroding beach, and right now [city officials] seem more concerned about the tax base. I really don’t think they realize the power of nature.’”
No, indeed they don’t. Like mad King Canute of old who commanded the seas to retreat from his power and majesty (and who drowned for his troubles), most of Galveston’s planning commissioners voted for the project and the City Council is set to approve it later on this year. And, unless some wiser heads prevail, soon there will be more huge Carnival Cruse ships pictured as if they were sitting right in the middle of downtown Galveston.
On the bright side, with rising seas and increasingly stronger hurricanes heading for the gulf regions, that image won’t be an optical illusion, a trick of the camera. Soon, Carnival Cruse ships actually will be sitting in the middle of what’s left of downtown Galveston.
And when the storms arrive and the seas rise, the laughter at such folly will die, along with a great many nice Galvestonians. Sadly, the survivors will then look around at the devastation and ask, “Why didn’t somebody see this coming?”
Well, someone did: Mother Nature. And a few geologists. But nobody was listening.