Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast hard in mid-September of 2008. The storm's effects were severe and long-lasting. But the devastation could have been much, much worse had the storm shifted its track by only a few miles.

The barrier island city of Galveston and communities on nearby Bolivar Peninsula bore the brunt of Ike's impact. Wikipedia remembers, "Most, if not all of the communities previously located on the Bolivar Peninsula, which together with Galveston Island separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, were utterly devastated … An early survey of Galveston Island, performed late Saturday, September 13 and Sunday, September 14, 2008, indicated that the entirety of the Island west of 11 Mile Road was entirely devastated, and that few structures on Galveston's western one-third had survived." (See "Effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas")

In a retrospective story about Ike ("Five years later, Hurricane Ike still remembered deep in the hearts of Texans," by Dennis Mersereau), the Washington Post observes, "In the course of American history, few weather events are infamous enough to be remembered by name, let alone the date they occurred." September 13's Hurricane Ike landfall is one such event. "According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Ike was the third costliest hurricane in American history, behind Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012), respectively, causing over $30 billion in damages in the United States alone," the Post reports. "Twenty people died along the Gulf Coast as a direct result of Ike's winds and flooding, and even more died across the central and eastern United States as the storm's remnants moved through and produced flash flooding."

But it's worth remembering that Texas actually got off lightly. By only a few miles, the storm missed taking a course directly up the Houston Ship Channel and hammering Houston with a body blow. The risk of such a storm track still exists, and according to experts, Houston is not ready. The Texas Tribune has this report: ("Researchers: Texas not ready for next hurricane," by Neena Satija).

"The dramatic growth of industry in the Houston Ship Channel, an economic engine for the state whose exports have exceeded even those of New York City, is one of the biggest causes for concern," the Tribune reports. "Some researchers worry that a direct-hit hurricane would wreak havoc on the channel's chemical and oil storage tanks, leading to spills and an environmental catastrophe."

At a Rice University conference in September, experts debated alternative approaches to hardening the Ship Channel against such a disaster. "A spirited debate has emerged over two possible solutions to protect the Ship Channel from a storm surge," the paper reports. "The SSPEED [Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters] center is proposing a retractable gate across the channel's entrance known as the 'Centennial Gate.' The proposed gate, a submersible, 600-foot-long, 80-foot-tall barge that rests on the bottom of the channel, would cost an estimated $1.5 billion. A competing idea is the 'Ike Dike,' the work of scientists at Texas A&M University at Galveston. It would extend Galveston's current seawall westward along the entire island's coast and eastward along the Bolivar Peninsula — which proponents say would provide much wider protection to Houston in the process."