Catastrophic flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey: what we know

Catastrophic and life-threatening floods are currently drenching Houston, Texas, America’s fourth-largest metro area. More than 3 feet of rain have fallen in some areas. Feet more are expected. Roads are impassable. Thousands have been rescued from flooding homes, and search efforts are still underway. A total of 12,000 thousand National Guard members have been called into service, and civilians — from in and outside of Texas — have volunteered their boats for search and rescue. More than 30,000 people are going to need temporary shelter, FEMA reported Monday, and estimated that 450,000 people are likely to seek federal disaster aid. At least eight people have died in the storm, authorities report.

And it’s not over yet.

“This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced,” the National Weather Center — a government agency known for its sober-minded messaging and avoidance of hyperbole — stated Sunday.

The situation is bad, and it could get worse. The weather service is calling the situation “catastrophic and life-threatening.”

Harvey landed in coastal Texas as a Category 4 hurricane Friday night, and within a day, its winds degraded to tropical storm strength. But now this is a new emergency altogether. Harvey has stalled (as forecast) over the Texas coast, and the flooding may continue for days. On Sunday, as the situation grew dire, the Weather Service advised people to “get on the roof” if the top floor of their home became dangerous.

As of Monday morning, parts of Houston and its surrounding areas had seen 30-to-40 inches of rain total. And so much more is to come. “Harvey is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 15 to 25 inches through Friday [yes, Friday, as in September 1] over the middle and upper Texas coast, including the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area,” the National Hurricane Center reports in its latest forecast. “Isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches in this region.”

“When we look back on this, in historical context,” Needham said in an interview, “I think it will really be the flood that’s the main story.” For context, of the 34 direct deaths from Hurricane Matthew, which pummeled the East Coast from Florida to North Carolina in 2016, more than half were drownings from flooding.

Harvey is the first hurricane to land as Category 4 in Texas since Carla in 1961. The last hurricane to land at Category 3 in the US was Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and that caused $20.6 billion of damage in its path through Florida.

It’s scary any time such a strong storm hits a densely populated area. As meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out on Twitter, coastal Texas has grown tremendously over the past 15 years and is home to much of the country’s oil infrastructure. In preparation, Gulf oil refineries and platforms have shut down, and the price of oil has crept upward, anticipating a possible lower supply.

President Donald Trump declared Harvey a federal disaster Friday night before the storm hit, which activates federal money for emergency services and eventual cleanup.

Again, it’s important to reiterate: This storm isn’t over, and the Texas coast is likely to be feeling its effects for a long time.

How to follow Hurricane Harvey

  • Follow the Houston-area office of the National Weather Service on Twitter.
  • The National Hurricane Center has a page updating every few hours with the latest watches and warnings for Harvey. Check it out.
  • Follow the Capital Weather Gang’s Twitter account. These folks tend to live-tweet storm updates.
  • Here’s a Twitter list of weather experts via meteorologist Eric Holthaus. These experts will give you up-to-the second forecasts and warnings.