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January-February 2011

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Weatherscapes

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas—A Modern Meteorological Mystery

Aspindly phalanx of land, the Bolivar Peninsula defines the lower periphery of Galveston Bay and faces the open Gulf of Mexico on its southern littoral. Because the peninsula is located on one of the most cyclonically active parts of the globe, some of the most lethal, destructive hurricanes in recorded history have roared across Bolivar, leaving near apocalyptic aftermath in their wakes. Among these were the “Galveston Hurricane” of September 8, 1900, and Hurricane Carla, which made landfall on September 10, 1961.

Hurricane Ike, which hit in September 2008, proved to be the most destructive to the Bolivar Peninsula. Ike made landfall at Galveston, Texas (just to the west of Bolivar), in the early morning hours of September 13, 2008. Through its life cycle, Ike had burgeoned into a massive storm, actually one of the largest ever recorded; it covered much of the entire Gulf of Mexico at one point. Although it hit land as a Category 2 hurricane, Ike's storm surge was characteristic of a Category 4 hurricane due to its enormous breadth. And while the eye passed through Galveston, the hurricane's right-front quadrant—the aspect of an Atlantic hurricane typically generating the highest winds and strongest storm surges—landed a crushing blow to the peninsula. Residents reported water surging over Bolivar so rapidly—as long as six hours before actual landfall—that some couldn't escape to safer ground, forcing those stranded to fight for survival amid 100+ mph winds and pitiless waves.

After the storm had passed, rescuers and returnees found almost complete destruction throughout Bolivar. Ike had nearly wiped the town of Gilchrist, which lies on the eastern end of the peninsula, off the map. Aerial photography revealed that most of Gilchrist's structures had been removed from their foundations. Crystal Beach, which lies roughly at the midsection of the peninsula, didn't fare much better. Not only did Ike raze houses and buildings built atop the peninsula, but the storm incised the coast itself, narrowing the peninsula in some places by hundreds of feet.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. Visit his Web site at www.darack.com.

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