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February 25, 2011 | A case study from NCAR looks at how coastal residents assessed their risks and made decisions leading up to Hurricane Ike, along with how they perceived a statement issued by the National Weather Service that people in some areas would face “certain death” if they didn’t evacuate.
Hurricane Ike made landfall as a category 2 hurricane near Galveston, Texas, on September 13, 2008. It generated a substantial storm surge of 10–20 feet (3–6 meters) in coastal southwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas, with the worst surge near Galveston. The surge inundated parts of Galveston Island and other areas, destroying structures and causing fatalities.
In a series of interviews with 49 coastal Texas residents affected by Ike conducted five weeks after the storm, NCAR scientists Rebecca Morss and Mary Hayden gathered data on people’s perceptions of the hurricane’s risk, their preparation and evacuation decisions, and their opinions of the hurricane forecasts and warnings.
They found that while most interviewees paid close attention to Ike as it approached and were aware that the storm was potentially dangerous, the extent of flooding surprised interviewees, as many had prepared primarily for strong winds. Although some interviewees reported that evacuation orders were very important to their decisions to stay or go, the majority also took other factors such as weather forecasts into account and used their own personal judgment.
Of the interviewees who heard the NWS’s “certain death” statement, reactions were mixed. The statement helped convince several residents to evacuate, but others had strong negative opinions—describing it as “overblown” and “ridiculous,” for example—and indicated that it might decrease their sensitivity to similar warnings in the future.