When the rain first started to fall on Houston, Texas, in September of 2008, it didn’t seem that much different from any other storm.
But as the time ticked by, the difference between Hurricane Ike and the thunderstorms I’d loved watching from the safety of my window as a kid in Wisconsin became abundantly clear.
I was a sophomore attending my first month of classes at the University of Houston in Texas on Sept. 4, 2008, when the storm named Ike became a Category 4 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. (It downgraded before its U.S. landfall.)
For days, I watched the local weather religiously, anxiously watching as the local NBC news affiliate’s meteorologist gave updates on the path of the storm and tried to impart exactly how seriously people should take this storm as he stood in a rain coat that threatened to catch the wind and blow him over on the island city of Galveston, Texas.
It’s hard for a girl from the Midwest to truly appreciate what a hurricane means. I remember feeling like it was all so surreal — like could never happen anywhere I was — as I walked the grocery store aisles that were emptier than I’ve ever seen before or since. It is really weird to see whole displays empty in a Walmart, guys. You never realize how accustomed you are to full shelves until they’re not full anymore.
It didn’t really hit home until Sept. 11, two days before Ike hit Galveston. I had gone to school like normal and left to go home in the afternoon to find my usual entrance to I-45 blocked by police cars. According to what I saw on the news later, the entrances were blocked to keep rush hour Houston traffic from interfering with the evacuation of Galveston and other southern Texas towns, but at the time, all I knew was that my directionally challenged self had no clue how to get back home without the interstate.
I had gone to UH for barely a couple weeks and lived in the Houston area for a month. I had just gotten to the point where I could take my reliable route to and from school without checking my directions. To top it all off, in those days, my barely smart phone had a map but no GPS enabled, and it certainly wouldn’t read me directions to get home. So naturally, I freaked out.
With the help of my amazingly patient friend Tim, I managed to get home by some route I couldn’t recreate if I tried, all the while trying very hard not to think about the photos I’d seen three years prior from Hurricane Katrina, with people boating up and down streets past the tops of cars that were nearly completely underwater.
Humble, Texas, the town where I lived with Tim and his wife, Sarah, was high enough that we didn’t have to evacuate. Instead we stocked up on water, ice, food and alcohol and got ready to ride it out.
Ride it out we did.
My neighbors set up their grill in the garage and we grilled all kinds of great food while the rain drops started to fall. I sat and tried to relax and enjoy having a rare Friday off work. I texted some Wisconsin friends and my parents, sending them photos of the rain, which quickly started pounding into the pavement loud enough to drown out what people were saying. It was early Saturday, Sept. 13, when Hurricane Ike blew through, tearing siding and shingles from homes and tearing tree limbs apart.
Ike isn’t as well-known as Katrina or Sandy, but it ended up being the third-costliest Atlantic hurricane of all time, with just fewer than 200 related deaths, as well as $37.5 billion in damages. I am never going to forget the photo from the island of Galveston, where a whole neighborhood of beach homes was reduced to one yellow house on stilts.
Humble came off pretty light, at least in my neighborhood. If I remember right, Tim and Sarah lost a tree. A neighbor needed a new roof. My regular route to the restaurant where I worked was unusable for a few days due to a couple of flooded intersections, and the tropical fish in the tank died when the building lost power for several hours.
But we were still without power for a week, which is no picnic in the 90-degree heat and humidity that sticks around in September in Houston.
It’s been nearly a decade since Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. As I write this Friday afternoon, Houston is battening down for Hurricane Harvey, a Category 3 storm that stretches from the top of Texas to halfway through Louisiana right now. The National Weather Service is predicting 35 inches of rain in parts of Texas, and evacuations have begun.
“Texas is about to have a very significant disaster,” said Brock Long, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
I’ve been through a hurricane and can’t imagine what the people of Corpus Christi, Texas, about halfway down the Gulf Coast, are going through as the National Weather Service informs them that flooding and strong winds could leave their homes uninhabitable for weeks or maybe months.
My heart goes out to them.