GALVESTON, TX - Hurricane Patricia is exactly the kind of storm our Gulf Coast worries about, and this week there was a conference in Galveston all about being prepared. The title of the conference was Living on the Edge.
“Do we lift things up? Do we put barriers around them?” asks Dwayne Jones, Executive Director of the Galveston Historical Foundation.
Jones says he is looking for ways to preserve the 150 years of national history on Galveston Island.
“Do we look for ways to make the buildings more resilient in terms of materials that can come back after a storm?”
Jones has seen the devastation from Hurricane Ike, including 13 feet of water in the historical district known as The Strand.
“It’s happened and it will happen again,” Jones says.
Jones gathers engineers, scientists, and climatologists for the Living on the Edge conference every year. With Hurricane Patricia hours away from slamming Mexico’s west coast, the predictions for the future were particularly poignant
“While models suggest we may not see more hurricanes,” said Hal Needham, a storm surge scientist from Louisiana State University, “the hurricanes we do see may tend to be stronger."
Indeed, Hurricane Patricia was the strongest storm ever recorded. But Needham says, the prediction is coming from computer models, because in the hurricane data that has been recorded, there’s no trend. Needham says there’s no trend in their frequency, wind speed, or storm surge.
Needham showed a diagram that illustrates Galveston’s 72 storm surge events, from 1900 to the present.
“This shows the 1900 Galveston hurricane produced a 20 foot storm surge,” Needham points out. “That’s almost twice the size of Ike.”
“We've been pretty lucky, that out of the 15 highest events in Galveston’s history, 11 of them happened more than 50 years ago.”
So what's that say about climate change? Needham says it doesn’t matter. Coastlines are battered every time there's a storm. So, whether you’re protecting historical buildings or human lives, society can do better.
“A lot of times we’re talking were talking about climate change, sea level rise, and adapting for the future,” Needham says. “ Sometimes I feel we'd be doing very well to just adapt to the past.”