I grew up a member of a small Roman Catholic family. Six girls, two boys. My mother did not drive. My father was a mechanic. Many say he was lazy and he could have made more money, but we always had shoes, and we always went on vacations during the summer. The vacations were more of a big drive through the country.
If we evacuated, we moved our gaggle about 30 miles North into town. That's it. It was not financially a possibility for us to move much more than that.
In the case of Houston: The city has a flooding issue. The destruction was not from the wind, as normally is the case with a tropical cyclone. The destruction was from the torrential rain that no one could have forecast the amounts of.
In the case of Florida: The storm was forecast to travel the length of the state. This means, to effectively evacuation, you are looking at going into another state. If you reside somewhere in Jacksonville, Georgia isn't that far. And, you probably don't need to evacuate anyway.
As you move to the southern part of the state, the potential for destruction and the need to evacuate rises dramatically. Along with these rises the amount of resources needed to be expended to get out of harm's way increases.
In both cases, if there were mass evacuations, then people would have been trapped in their cars during the storm. In both cases, much time would be required to evacuate the millions in population.
The question looms: They new the storm was coming, why not evacuate a week ago. Of course, I have an answer. I hope I do this topic justice so that you, the reader, can understand what I'm trying to say. We are going to talk math.
A tropical cyclone obeys the laws of fluid dynamics. They follow what is called a complex dynamic equation. Forget Algebra. These equations are even more symbolic than that. They are more symbolic of thought.
In wing design, there are a series of complex dynamic equations called Ares (long "a" and "e"). To demonstrate the tight variance of wing design, if as little as 1" of ice builds up on a wing, the equation is upset and the plane will not fly. (I haven't enjoyed flying since that study in class years ago. I still fly, but, I'm just a little pensive.) This concept is the neighborhood concept. Each small area affects the dynamics of the small areas around it. When I moved into my neighborhood, the property values dropped.
Tropical cyclones obey neighborhoods of these special equation. The smaller the size of neighborhoods, the more accurate the simulation, the more accurate the projection.
Ahh, if it were so easy!
Away from math. Let's talk about data acquisition.
Driving all of this analysis is an equally important counterpart. That is, the bits of information that are collected from various areas. You have the bravest pilots in the world, the Hurricane Hunters. These brave souls fly in patterns around and in the cyclone collecting data for further analysis back home. It takes a fair amount of time to collect all these data points....errrr. For the sake of argument, let's call them "neighborhoods" of data. (see what I did there - I'm tricky aren't I?) It is physically impossible to collect all these data points at once.
You guessed it.... back to math.
Remember the 1" of ice on the wing causing the aircraft to crash? The difference in time required to collect all these neighborhoods inject error into the equations. This is analogous to about a foot of ice on the wing.
Done with math and data acquisition (kinda, it's cloaked).
All that I've typed thus far about Mathematics and data collection make it impossible to predict with any high degree of accuracy the future of a storm. Over the years, primarily in the last 15 or so years, the ice on the wing (so to speak) has gotten thinner and the predictions have increased in accuracy. However, the predictions should not ever be used to bet life and limb on.
In summation, we have people that are strapped for resources basing life decisions on a system of equations that only a small group of people really understand and nobody wants to. It is very easy to see that bad decisions are made. Us humans make them all the time. Really, it's next to impossible to make the right decision.
The decision to evacuate must be a personal one. That's it. You take the information that you can process, look at what resources you have, and make your decision with family. The only wrong decision is someone making the mistake of being anything but supportive of people in whatever decision they choose.
Thanks for reading,
Jay C. Theriot