Hurricane Patricia breaks records and threatens Mexico and Texas

In only 24 hours, the strongest hurricane on record was born. Hurricane Patricia, which dumped devastating rains over Central Mexico and blasted 200 mile-per-hour sustained winds Friday evening and Saturday morning, had a central pressure two millibars lower than Hurricane Wilma, the previous record holder. Wilma struck the Yucatan Peninsula and moved on to the Texas coast during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season in the same oceanic conditions that brought Rita and Katrina. The best that Texas meteorologists could say of Patricia is thank goodness it was in the Pacific, and made landfall in a relatively rural area.


As the worst of Patricia struck an area near Cuixmala and moved inland over the weekend, the storm was expected to present catastrophic conditions to a major swath of the Pacific Mexican coast. Communities near the ocean and just inland were susceptible to a tremendous flash flooding threat from a projected downpour of 10 to 12 inches of rain, widespread power outages and downed trees. Rainfall in the mountains was expected to collect in valleys and rush downhill to low-lying areas, swelling waterways further.

weatherHowever, CNN reports that Mexico dodged a bullet. Tourists and poor communities were evacuated well ahead of the storm, and in spite of the threat of devastation, there were no reported deaths. When Patricia made landfall, the storm rapidly weakened as it crossed the Sierra Madre, and meteorologists downgraded its status to a low pressure system with wind speeds averaging 35 miles per hour. Storms this strong usually bring down communication infrastructure that must be rebuilt, said David Paul, KHOU-11 Chief Meteorologist.

rainfall totals

Source: The Weather Channel

Texas didn’t see hurricane conditions, but residents throughout the state received heavy rainfall. As the storm crossed the mountains and its energy was pushed further up into the atmosphere, it carried with it weekend rainfall totals averaging 12 inches for the state. West and Central Texas endured flooding conditions Friday morning and areas from Victoria to San Antonio and further north into Austin, Waco and Dallas witnessed widespread heavy rainfall, all caused by the disturbance of Patricia’s forward march.


By the time the storm reached the U.S., its power was significantly weakened. For Houston, Patricia meant flash flooding conditions. The city saw more than seven inches of rain over the rest of the weekend. Communities along the coast experienced strong, gale-force winds and an increase in coastal flooding threat.

“The major threats are flooding,” Paul said. “Because it will still have a tremendous amount of vorticity or twist, there will be a tornado threat that will last through Sunday and into early Monday.”

With a storm this powerful, the best advice is to get out of the way. Upwards of 50,000 people in Mexico evacuated, and still more were affected by dangerous conditions.

Scientifically speaking, Patricia was “a beauty,” Paul said. It had a strong, well-defined eyewall and formed in ideal conditions.


“We’re in an El Niño year, and it’s the strongest ever measured,” Paul said. “The sea surface temperatures are above normal, so the storm has plenty of warm water (to fuel it). What has allowed Patricia to become so strong is a lack of wind shear. The upper-level winds were perfect for tropical storm development. No wind shear allows it to ‘bomb out.’ That’s a term we use to mean strengthening rapidly. It went from 65 mile-an-hour winds to a 160-mile-an-hour Category 5 hurricane in 24 hours!”

Imagine poking your head out of an Indy 500 race car shooting down the track. That’s what it’s like to feel sustained winds of 200 mph. Structures in its path, even those on foundations are all likely to have been flattened.


Comparing historical data from Galveston, meteorologists believe the hurricane that laid ruin to the Texas coast in 1900 was probably a Category 4. Winds reached between 140 and 145 miles an hour in that storm, and Hurricane Katrina topped out at 175 mph. At 200 mph, Patricia seems to defy the five-category Saffir—Simpson Scale with its outstanding wind speed, and even Paul admits this storm may require its own category, but that doesn’t mean it’s the strongest that could ever have occurred.

 “We don’t have a special section to put it in, but we’ve only been measuring these hurricanes since about the 1970s,” Paul said. “There may have been stronger ones.”

That said, there are some other distinctions to make. The high winds only occur at the eyewall, diminishing further out. And Paul hesitated to use the storm’s historical strength as evidence of any significant global trends.

“I don’t see that. El Niño may be one of the factors, the warming of the Pacific waters a little above normal,” Paul said. “I just see this as a storm that got in the right place at the right time with the upper-level winds.”


So should Americans be worried about hurricanes of Patricia’s magnitude forming in the Atlantic this season? Paul had an answer for that, too.

“We’re nearing the end of the season, but it doesn’t end until November 31. If you live on the coast, that’s the price. The price you pay is to be prepared for hurricanes to come along every once in a while.”

Residents of Texas and Mexico alike are urged to monitor the weather all weekend long using whatever resources are available. KHOU-11 will keep an eye on the storm 24/7 and will provide updates on its progress on Facebook, Twitter and on the Web.

Do not drive in flash flood conditions. If you must, take extreme caution. Remember to turn around, don’t drown. Get to higher ground.

When the storm has passed, learn more about how the weather is broadcast at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at the KHOU-11 Do the Weather with Chita Johnson exhibit.

Stay safe!

Food chains link the creatures of coastal ecology

Don’t stick your hand in that shell! You don’t know who might be home. It could be a carnivorous snail or a “clawsome” crab. Take a look at our Texas state shell, the lightning whelk or left-handed whelk, which feeds on bivalves like oysters and clams. Perhaps the snail that makes the shell is still hiding inside, or perhaps the shell is home to a hermit crab. Unlike most crabs, hermit crabs use the shells of snails as homes to protect their soft bodies.

Hermit Crab

Hermit crab taking residence in an empty lightning whelk shell.

Texas is home to some fascinating creatures, and our coast is no exception. In addition to the Gulf side beaches, there are salt marshes, jetties and the bay to investigate. Our coastal habitats are just waiting to be explored, and with the right gear, you can see organisms at every trophic level. (You knew I was going to talk about food chains, didn’t you?) 


Lightning whelk snail retracted into its shell, operculum blocking the opening.

Most folks will notice some of the upper-level consumers: birds like pelicans and gulls. Who could miss the gull snatching your unattended hotdogs? Or the pelicans plummeting into the water face first to catch fish? Maybe you’ve noticed fishermen along the beach as they pull in small bonnethead sharks. Some animals may require good timing and tons of mosquito repellent to see, like our rare and critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. If you pay attention, there are even rattlesnakes catching mice that are feeding on insects and plants in the dunes!Food Web

As you follow a food pyramid from the apex down to the base, top predators like humans and sharks feed on the organisms in the level below. There you might find the larger bony fish we feed on, like redfish or snapper, and below them you can find some of the crustaceans and mollusks they feed on in turn. Crustaceans, like our blue crabs, stone crabs, and the smaller ghost crabs, often scavenge in addition to feeding on mollusks, worms, or even plant matter. Many of our mollusks are filter feeders, like oysters, pulling algae and plankton from the water. Finally, at the base of the food pyramid, there are the producers. The phytoplankton and algae make their own food with energy from the sun.

A food chain pyramid is a great way to show different types of food chains on one example. I used a pyramid created by my friend Julia and drew examples of food chains from our coast on it. One side has the trophic levels on it and the other three sides have example food chains. What’s on the bottom of the pyramid? The Sun, of course!Pyramid

Coastal ecology isn’t just about sand, shells, and dodging gulls. It’s also about the interactions between plants, animals, and their environment. The plants anchor the dunes, the dunes protect and replenish the beach sand, the sand houses animals like mole crabs and mantis shrimp, and we get to enjoy it when we protect it.

If tracking home beach sand in your shoes, car, towels, and suits doesn’t excite you, our new Hamman Hall of Coastal Ecology may be just the air-conditioned trip to the coast you need on a scorching summer day in Texas. Members, come join us Memorial Day weekend to see wonders of the Texas coastline!

Swords and Shutterbugs: Our Samurai Pixel Party Recap

After-hours at the Museum on March 1, we hosted one of our exclusive Pixel Parties — where we open select exhibits just for photographers (both amateur and professional). For our first event of 2015, we gave photographers access to Samurai: The Way of the Warrior.

And here’s a small sampling of what they gave us in return:

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography



Roberto Valerio

Roberto Valerio

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Nicholas Foster

Nicholas Foster

James Woody

James Woody

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Arie's Photography

Arie’s Photography



Reed's Photography

Reed’s Photography

Bethany Tiner

Bethany Tiner

Dwayne Fortier

Dwayne Fortier

Randall Pugh

Randall Pugh

We couldn’t fit all the wonderful photos into this blog post. To see even more photos from this event, please visit our HNNS Flickr Group page.

Girls Exploring Math and Science 2015


Last Saturday, we celebrated our 10th year of hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) at HMNS! Despite the questionable weather, we had a spectacular turnout! From underwater robots to photobooths, we had it all.


The GEMS event includes two sections – community booths and student booths. Our community booths are hosted by local STEM organizations. They present STEM activities or demonstrations to young students and they talk about how they got their STEM careers. This year, the Subsea Tiebeck Foundation brought an exhibit called SEATIGER. It’s a giant tank containing an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) for students to learn about how STEM is involved with the offshore and subsea industries. GEMS also included fault line activities, polymer demonstrations, and astronaut dexterity challenges from some of our other community booths!


In addition, GEMS hosts student booths. As a student booth, students present a project relating to science, technology, engineering or math to peers as well as adults. Every year we award the top three projects with prize money for their school, club or Girl Scout troop. This year we had some exceptional projects! Third place went to Girl Scout Troop 17492 for their project, The Human Battery. Like true scientists, these fourth grade girls had to reconstruct their experiment after their first attempt failed. Luckily, they reconstructed their experiment, and found an alternative way to power a battery using lemons instead! The second place team was another group of Girl Scouts, Troop 126005. Their project, POP! The Power of Programming, examined the intricacies of computer programming and each of the girls designed their own small program too! First place went to Jersey Voltage, the Jersey Village High School Robotics team. The team built a robot that could throw a ball, and they demonstrated their robots talent by playing catch with some GEMS participants! They plan to use their winnings to take their robot to a robotics competition in Texas or Louisiana!


We hope that everyone that joined us at GEMS 2015 had a great time! If you took some photos in our smilebooth, you can see them here!

Join us at GEMS next year on Saturday, February 20, 2016!!