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Storm Surge and “Certain Death”: Interviews with Texas Coastal Residents following Hurricane Ike

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, * Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, on 13 September 2008 as a large category 2 storm that generated significant storm surge and flooding. This article presents findings from an empirical case study of Texas coastal residents’ perceptions of hurricane risk, protective decision making, and opinions of hurricane forecasts related to Hurricane Ike. The results are based on data from interviews with 49 residents affected by Hurricane Ike, conducted approximately five weeks after landfall. While most interviewees were aware that Ike was potentially dangerous, many were surprised by how much coastal flooding the hurricane caused and the resulting damage. For many—even long-time residents—Ike was a learning experience. As the hurricane approached, interviewees and their households made complex, evolving preparation and evacuation decisions. Although evacuation orders were an important consideration for some interviewees, many obtained information about Ike frequently from multiple sources to evaluate their own risk and make protective decisions. Given the storm surge and damage Ike caused, a number of interviewees believed that Ike’s classification on the Saffir–Simpson scale did not adequately communicate the risk Ike posed. The “certain death” statement issued by the National Weather Service helped convince several interviewees to evacuate. However, others had strong negative opinions of the statement that may negatively influence their interpretation of and response to future warnings. As these findings indicate, empirical studies of how intended audiences obtain, interpret, and use hurricane forecasts and warnings provide valuable knowledge that can help design more effective ways to convey hurricane risk.

Corresponding author address: Rebecca E. Morss, NCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: morss@ucar.edu

Abstract

Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, on 13 September 2008 as a large category 2 storm that generated significant storm surge and flooding. This article presents findings from an empirical case study of Texas coastal residents’ perceptions of hurricane risk, protective decision making, and opinions of hurricane forecasts related to Hurricane Ike. The results are based on data from interviews with 49 residents affected by Hurricane Ike, conducted approximately five weeks after landfall. While most interviewees were aware that Ike was potentially dangerous, many were surprised by how much coastal flooding the hurricane caused and the resulting damage. For many—even long-time residents—Ike was a learning experience. As the hurricane approached, interviewees and their households made complex, evolving preparation and evacuation decisions. Although evacuation orders were an important consideration for some interviewees, many obtained information about Ike frequently from multiple sources to evaluate their own risk and make protective decisions. Given the storm surge and damage Ike caused, a number of interviewees believed that Ike’s classification on the Saffir–Simpson scale did not adequately communicate the risk Ike posed. The “certain death” statement issued by the National Weather Service helped convince several interviewees to evacuate. However, others had strong negative opinions of the statement that may negatively influence their interpretation of and response to future warnings. As these findings indicate, empirical studies of how intended audiences obtain, interpret, and use hurricane forecasts and warnings provide valuable knowledge that can help design more effective ways to convey hurricane risk.

Corresponding author address: Rebecca E. Morss, NCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000. Email: morss@ucar.edu

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