Living in the Houston area means that you have most likely “hunkered down” for a storm or two in the past. However, though our coastal city frequently endures severe weather, it’s clear that Houston is future-focused and rapidly expanding across many sectors. “Houston of Tomorrow: Building a Resilient Coastal City,” which begins Wednesday, February 25, was designed to bring together six experts for an interdisciplinary look at the opportunities we have to continue building resilience and sustainability in Houston.
One of our instructors, Philip B. Bedient, Ph.D., Herman Brown Chair of Engineering and director of Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, shares some insight from his research and experience.
Are there a few key things that Houston has learned as a result of past storms and floods?
Flooding is one of the most damaging of all natural disasters, and Houston suffers from being at the epicenter of major rainfalls, hurricanes and intense urban development. This is a recipe for major flooding, but much has been done to help control flooding in the past few decades. The case of the Texas Medical Center will be highlighted as a major success story after tropical storm Allison. Also there is much ongoing research post Hurricane Ike, and while a very complex problem, there are solutions that can protect the Gulf Coast Area based on the Dutch experience.
How did you get interested in this field?
Growing up in Florida, I was always amazed by the sheer power of mother nature because of the intense thunderstorms there and, of course, the hurricanes. I began the study of these problems after first majoring in physics at the University of Florida and then going to graduate school at a time when environmental engineering was at the forefront of urban problems. My major professor was one of the top hydrologists in the U.S., and I benefited greatly from his guidance.
Recently, Houston has experienced relatively mild hurricane seasons. Does that raise concern for the future?
The famous quote is that the further we are from the last serious storm event, the more we forget about its impact. However, the long seven years since Hurricane Ike hit also means we are closer to the next hit, which averages about every 17 years for hurricanes. It is much less time for another major flood. We have had about five or six major floods in the past 30 years in the Houston area. It is simply inevitable that we will see another major hit in next few years.
As the bayou city continues to be recognized as one of America’s fastest growing cities, it is invaluable to learn about the unavoidable, natural characteristics of our city. Join us to hear the perspectives of six experts and industry leaders, culminating in a panel discussion during the final session. “Houston of Tomorrow: Building a Resilient Coastal City” begins next Wednesday.
Kim Espinosa, Marketing Specialist