University professor, students went to Texas to study Harvey

University+professor%2C+students+went+to+Texas+to+study+Harvey

CW File

Camille Studebaker

After monitoring Hurricane Harvey’s strength on Aug. 24, Jason Senkbeil, noticed it would be a lot stronger than expected. Senkbeil, an assistant professor in the geography department at the University, along with two University of Alabama students loaded up a car and headed out to Texas to advance their research by experiencing Hurricane Harvey firsthand. 

One of those students was graduate student Walker Skeeter. Walker said the general premise of the research – which involved interviewing people affected by Harvey – was to get a reading of how people perceive the risks that are associated with hurricanes. They were also interested in why some people decide to evacuate and others don’t, how hurricanes relate to wind speed and flooding, as well as the tracks that people think the hurricanes are going to take.  

“People are more inclined to think that a hurricane is going to track basically directly over their house,” he said. “Especially if they’re evacuating, they automatically assume that they’re at a greater risk than they may actually be. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not sure, but that’s generally how it works.”

The trip was not a typical University one. In fact, the University car was almost wrecked twice.

Skeeter said that they were planning on staying in a hotel on the coast in Port Lavaca, Texas where a bunch of media outlets were staying, but when they arrived the hotel parking lot was only about four or five feet above sea level. If they had parked the University car there it would have been underwater quickly.  

So instead of staying there, they moved on to Victoria, Texas about 30 miles inland from Port Lavaca. They found a hotel on the north side of Victoria, and the storm made landfall the next night, where they experienced 70 to 80 mph gusts of wind and saw a palm tree that had fallen on a car just a few spaces away from their car.  

Driving through heavy rain and about 50 mph wind gusts, they got out of Victoria the next day safely before the flooding got too bad. 

“Because if we had stayed even just a few hours longer, we probably would have been stuck there for two days,” Skeeter said. 

Kimberly Brothers, a senior majoring in geography and interdisciplinary studies, also went on the trip. For her, the trip ended up being about more than just the research. She said she learned a lot about how the impact of hurricanes. 

“Just seeing how impactful they can be, how much chaos they cause within a short amount of time, and seeing how the community actually came together, some of them from the storm shelters, just seeing everyone in the community going into action was a big thing for me,” she said.  

Senkbeil is now headed out to Hurricane Irma, which Brothers believes will cause a lot of flooding and overall chaos in its path.