Superstorm Harvey continues to wreak epic damage to Texas, particularly Houston.
But it’s not the wind, it’s the rain. Epic, record-breaking, unbelievable amounts of rain.
It’s entirely possible that the entire region will not get back ‘to normal’ for months, if not years.
Vice President Mike Pence noted that given the “magnitude of the flooding” that “it will be years coming back.” (Source)
Tens of thousands of homes are flood damaged, many of them total losses. Only one-in-six Houston residences is thought to have flood insurance.
FEMA Director Brock Long said 30,000 are in temporary shelters with 450,000 expected to seek assistance. That may well grow if Harvey cycles back for another hit, which is quite likely at this time (see below).
The entire city of Houston is deserted except for rescue vehicles. So a major American city is not at work today. Or tomorrow. Or....???
A significant portion of the nation’s energy infrastructure is directly impacted by Harvey’s biblical rains and current total shutdown. Crude oil will accumulate there as refineries are unable to process it into fuel products. The prices for those same fuel products has been rising and will continue to spike higher. If this goes on for long enough, actual shortages will result.
The only mitigating factors working against the accumulation of crude at storage farms is the shutdown of wells in the Gulf as well as possibly a few wells in Texas' Eagle Ford region, for which no back-up power exists at the well sites. I don’t have any information on how extensive that might be yet. I'm just guessing at this point.
Rivers in Houston are not expected to crest until Tuesday, at some 11 feet (!!) higher than their current “major flood” stage (forecast as of 2:15 a.m. August 28th, 2017).
There’s no historical parallel for this level of flooding, so we’ll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.
The good news is that the past 24 hours have seen relatively little rainfall (just under an inch).
The really bad news is that the latest models show Harvey heading back into the Gulf, picking up more moisture and power, possibly becoming a hurricane again, and then coming back ashore aimed straight for a second savaging of Houston:
That would be thoroughly cruel to those who's lives have already been upended by this storm. But nature can be rather remorseless that way.
As the WSJ put it this morning:
HOUSTON—Tropical Storm Harvey was poised to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico Monday and make another landfall closer to Houston roughly two days later, prolonging the slow-motion flooding disaster that already has crippled one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.
The storm, still over coastal Texas, is not expected to regain hurricane strength as its eye moves back over water, according to the National Hurricane Center. But its plodding, easterly track means as much as 20 more inches of rain could fall on the Houston area. The region has seen as much as 30 inches in recent days, turning roads into rivers, inundating homes and requiring rescues for thousands of stranded people.
The historic rains, already more than half of what Houston gets in a typical year, were forcing officials to make painful decisions to evacuate flooded areas—and to release water from reservoirs under strain, knowing that it would flow into nearby neighborhoods
20 more inches might fall. This is really without any precedent. It’s a very serious situation and people are mostly shocked and unable to process the enormity of this at the moment.
The last part in bold above is really concerning. The reservoirs in the region are all completely full, or in never-before-seen record territory. If you live downstream from one of these you really ought to consider evacuation.
Here’s one that has hit a new record:
That’s a brand new record high for the reservoir. Here’s some info on it.
The Addicks Reservoir and Addicks Dam in conjunction with the Barker Reservoir prevent downstream flooding of Buffalo Bayou in the City of Houston.
From 2008-2014, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District implemented $4.4 million in interim risk reduction measures (at Addicks and Barker dams) to address deficiencies until long-term solutions could be identified and executed.
In 2014, staff completed a Dam Safety Modification Study to evaluate long-term repairs and address issues associated with the dams. Staff presented this information during a public meeting Oct. 29 at Bear Creek Community Center in Houston to discuss these plans and gather feedback. Construction is scheduled to begin May 2015 with an estimated completion date of 2019.
It’s too bad that the dam remediation efforts were still 2 years away from completion as that dam is now being severely tested. All people the Buffalo Bayou area are strongly advised to consider evacuation.
Here’s the reservoir mapped:
“Controlled” releases are already underway and people have been asked to voluntarily evacuate.
The Harris County Flood Control District announced on Sunday night that they will have to open the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to relievesome of the pressure on Monday morning. Because of these releases, voluntary evacuations are being issued for people who live near the two reservoirs.
It remains to be seen if the releases can keep up with the rainfall. I don’t have any good information on that at present, but will keep researching.
Evacuating is a really big deal and not to be undertaken lightly. The main reason is that you aren't evacuating alone, but along with hundreds of thousands if not millions of other people.
Here’s an especially thoughtful post on the topic that I came across on Reddit early this morning:
I lived through several storms on the Gulf through the years and I can shed a bit of light on the topic.
For one thing, evacuating is expensive.
Factor in the weeks without work. Yes, weeks. Because even if you do manage to make it out of the path of the storm (which isn't a guarantee unless you travel hundreds of miles), there's no promise you'll be able to return home in a timely manner. Roads wash out, gas stations run out of gas and lose power, entire towns shut down.
The actual act of transporting yourself somewhere else is a challenge. Cars sit bumper to bumper, filling every highway and every lane. You've got to leave early enough to actually make progress, or else you'll be caught in the road when the storm hits. I was in Johnson Bayou days before Hurricane Gustav hit. I was driving from an EMT outpost to the corner store, a drive which normally took 20 minutes. It took me 8 hours, all because of evacuee traffic.
If you do decide to leave, there's no guarantee you'll still have a job to return to.
Then there's the sudden cost of a hotel room for weeks on end. Everywhere that's out of the direct path of the storm is full, I mean packed to the utter brim, no more rooms in Bethlehem and no more mangers either.
Everyone ELSE who's decided to evacuate is headed to the same spots, and these aren't luxurious destination locals. You go just far enough to get away, which sometimes puts you and your family