As of Friday morning, Ike is a Category 2 Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105mph. It continues on its W-NW path through the Gulf of Mexico and is set to make landfall near Galveston, TX late tonight/early tomorrow morning. It will either make landfall as a Category 2 or low-end Category 3 hurricane, but whether it becomes a Cat 3 or remains a strong Cat 2 is irrelevant at this point. The bottom-line is Ike will likely have devastating effects on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast (including Houston) as well as SW Louisiana. The reasons?
First, Ike is enormous. Its wind field is beyond impressive, with hurricane force winds extending 125 miles from its center, tropical storm force winds extending 275 miles. So regardless of where Ike makes its exact landfall, most of the Texas and Louisiana coastline (and points immediately inland) will experience damaging winds.
Second, is the expansive storm surge. Since Ike has been over the Gulf of Mexico for the past several days, it has been given time to build up sea-surface heights significantly, as the storm itself churns slowly over open water. Think of a bulldozer pushing an increasing pile of dirt or snow as it moves forward. Same concept here, except we're talking about an increasing "pile" of water. As Ike approaches land, all of this water will slam into the low-lying areas of the Gulf Coast. An eight to 14' storm surge is anticipated in SW Louisiana while an incredible 15 to 20' (isolated 25') storm surge is expected near Galveston, TX and Galveston Bay, which tickles the Houston suburbs. This would bring devastating flooding to Galveston, Texas City, and the Houston metropolitan area. However, if Ike makes landfall to the east of Galveston, the storm surge in this highly populated area would be less.
Bottom-line, regardless of whether it makes landfall as a Category 2 or Category 3, the combination of heavy rain, damaging winds, and incredible storm surge will lead to widespread and devastating property damage up and down the Texas and Louisiana coastline. Below is the latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center: