Hurricane Ike Facts, Damage and Costs

Hurricane Ike Could Have Cost $100 Billion

Hurricane Ike Damage
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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Hurricane Ike was a huge Category 2 hurricane when it hit the Texas coastline on September 13, 2008. Its tropical storm force wind field exceeded that of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, Ike’s massive size created a storm surge like that of a Category 5 hurricane. Its 15-foot waves pummeled coastlines from Florida to Texas. It was the most intense storm of 2008.

Facts

Ike was the seventh costliest hurricane to hit the United States. Total property damage to Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas was $34.8 billion when adjusted for inflation. Additional damage to Cuba, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands boosted the losses to $37.6 billion. Ike was directly responsible for 103 deaths. Another 64 people died in Texas due to electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, or medical conditions. A month after the storm hit, 157 people were still missing.

Ike created 29 tornadoes. Fortunately, none of them were responsible for any deaths.

Ike’s 15-foot to 20-foot storm surge completely submerged the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas. The storm hit the Inagua National Park in the Bahamas, home to 50,000 flamingoes. Most of them survived the storm by hiding in mangroves or flying to other islands.

In 2009, a Norwegian oil tanker collided with an oil rig that had been torn from its mooring by Ike. The oil was safely transferred to smaller ships.

If Ike had hit Houston, 50 miles down the coast, the damage would have been $100 billion. That's almost as much as the $125 billion in damage done when Hurricane Harvey hit the area in 2017.

Timeline

Hurricane Ike began as a tropical storm on September 1, 2008.

  • On September 3, it was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 miles per hour.
  • On September 7, Ike hit the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Bahamas. Later that day it hit Cuba as a Category 3 storm. It hit Galveston Island, Texas, on September 13, 2008. The area had just been devastated by Hurricane Gustav. That storm had hit Louisiana just two weeks earlier. Gustav cost $4.6 billion. It had been a Category 4 at its peak but calmed down to a Category 2 by landfall.
  • On September 14, Ike hit St. Louis, Missouri, as a tropical storm. In Ohio, 2.6 million people lost power. It moved into Canada, bringing heavy rains. The humidity shut down part of Montreal’s subway system.

Damage

More than $1 trillion of insured commercial and residential property lay in Hurricane Ike's path. About $70 billion lay near the shore, with $900 billion further inland. Although hurricanes usually lose power the further inland they go, much of Ike's damage was because it had a very wide path.

Cattle ranchers lost 4,000 animals. More than 11,000 workers became unemployed due to loss of businesses.

Ike hit Galveston Bay, producer of 15 million pounds of seafood annually. It dumped debris from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico on the shrimp and oyster trawlers that it didn't outright destroy. Those trawlers that could function didn’t find much to harvest.

Ike killed any oyster reefs not already destroyed by Hurricane Gustav. The $100 million oyster industry in Louisiana and Texas had produced more than half the oysters in the eastern United States.

Louisiana's $2.6 billion seafood industry sustained up to $300 million in losses due to the double-knockout punch of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Ike damaged pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed 10 Gulf offshore oil rigs. They were shut down as were all 22 Texas-based land-based oil refineries. This part of Texas is home to a quarter of U.S. crude oil and refinery production.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina, national gas prices barely budged in response to Hurricane Ike. Oil prices were already in a decline, thanks to expectations of a slower global economy and the end of the U.S. summer driving season.

Local gas prices rose to as much as $5 a gallon. Area inventories were low even before the hurricane hit. The Department of Energy delivered 300,000 barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the area. 

How Ike's Damage Compares to Other Hurricanes

Two weeks before Ike, Hurricane Gustav hit Louisiana. It was the 20th costliest hurricane in U.S. history. It was a Category 2, so it was less damaging that the others. Also, the levees held when it hit New Orleans. Although it only caused 20% of Ike’s destruction, the total U.S. property damage was $6.9 billion when adjusted for inflation. 

Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive U.S. hurricane. It hit New Orleans in 2005. This Category 3 storm killed 1,836 people and damaged $160 billion in property.

The second worst hurricane was Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm. It was so damaging because it hit developed areas. It dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston. It cost Texas $125 billion in damages.

Hurricane Maria was the third worst hurricane. It was a Category 5 storm that hit Puerto Rico and created $90 billion in damage.

In 2012, New York and New Jersey were hit by Hurricane Sandy. It was a tropical storm that left $70.2 billion in damage.

Another hard hitter was the fifth worst, Hurricane Irma. This Category 5 storm descended on Florida in 2017 and wrought $50 billion worth of damage. Hurricane Andrew was the sixth worst. It hit Florida and Louisiana in 1992. The Category 5 storm cost $47.8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Three Ways Global Warming Made Ike Worse

Global warming contributed to Ike's impact in three ways. First, rising sea levels caused extensive flooding. Between 1880 and 2015, the world’s sea level has risen an average of 8.9 inches. That pace is more rapid than in the previous 2,700 years, and it is quickening. Between 2000 and 2010, it increased 1.84 inches.

Second, the earth’s average temperature has increased by around 1 degree Celsius or 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Hurricane strength is fed by higher temperatures at deeper depths of the ocean. Global warming also produces more humidity in the air and fewer winds around the storm. Warmer air holds more moisture, making rainfall less likely. But when rain does fall, it pours out in buckets. That makes for greater rainfall during a hurricane.    

Third, global warming weakens the jet stream, slowing weather patterns. This slim area of strong winds, flowing high in our atmosphere, blows west to east at speeds up to 275 miles an hour. As it races on, it also goes in a north to south wave. The jet stream is powered by the contrasting temperatures of the Arctic and temperate zones. But global warming is decreasing the temperature contrast by rapidly raising the Arctic thermostat. This slows down the jet stream and allows hurricanes to remain longer over one area and wreak more damage. Since 1949, hurricanes have slowed by 10%.

Hurricanes are expected to increase in frequency and strength by 2035, according to M.I.T. models. Category 3, 4, and 5 storms will comprise 11% of these predicted hurricanes. Another 32 super-extreme hurricanes with winds over 190 miles per hour will occur. Their strengths surpass those of Category 5, leading many scientists to call for a new classification: Category 6.