Thursday, September 22, 2005


I'm learning a few things about how crazy it gets when a Category 4 or 5 hurricane is nearing the coast, even if you're 120 miles from the coast.

First off, we're not in the path anymore. Up until about 10 p.m. last night forecasts were for landfall at Port Lavaca and heading straight up toward us, with the eye passing within 30 miles or so of Austin. Incredibly, they were forecasting that it would still be hurricane strength when it got here, which would have been absolutely unprecedented. We were actually seriously discussing evacuating to the west (about 100 miles) if it was still going to be hurricane strength when it got here.

With the 11 p.m. update last night, though, the track had shifted farther up the coast. And it shifted even more this morning. Now, it's heading for the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, which is not far from the Louisiana border.

We're probably going to get 40-50MPH winds and some rain, at worst. That's no worse than a strong cold front.

However, I did see and hear some crazy things yesterday while people still thought we were directly in the storm's path. There were Super Wal-Mart's COMPLETELY out of bottled water, along with most of the largest supermarkets. It was absolutely incredible. And this was over 100 miles away from the storm's projected landfall (at that time). How much crazier is it on the coast?

Well, the answer to that is--much, much more crazy. Here's an excerpt from a post by "DivotMaker" on the Digital Sportspage forums (
Last night I returned home [to Houston] from Lafayette, LA which is normally a 3:10 trip. It took 9 hours with the last 30 miles taking 6 hours.

Reading that post made me realize something much more clearly than I had before: it is imposible to evacuate cities of 1+ million people in an orderly fashion. Houston has over 3 million people and a huge number of roads, but those roads are never designed to have more than X% of the population on them at any one time, and an evacuation means 5X% or more on the roads at the same time. At least. There's just no way that the math works out. It's guaranteed gridlock. It just can't be done efficiently in a 2-3 day period.

The supermarkets are the same way. Just like the roads, they're built with a certain peak capacity in mind, and natural disasters blow up the model. I would be very surprised if you can find any bottled water in Houston right now. Demand must be 10X supply or higher.

Gasoline? Not a chance. Good luck finding that in the Houston area. Same problem--supply can only accommodate limited increases in demand. Beyond that, in the short-term, supply simply runs out.

Here's one other thing. Take a look at the projected storm path here:

See that little jog just left of the projected landfall? The Houston Ship Channel is in there, and it has over a quarter of the U.S. refining capacity. In a worst case scenario, if Rita goes right up the ship channel and knocks out that refining capacity, gasoline prices would go through the roof. Those articles about gas costing $5 a gallon? That number's not out of play at this point. I still think it's unlikely, but it's not out of play.

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