A previously unremarkable tropical storm has now made landfall in Texas as a major Category 4 hurricane, and the threat is far from over.
A Storm that Almost Wasn't
A week after initially developing near the Lesser Antilles as a tropical storm, and nearly dissipating completely over the central Caribbean Sea, Harvey quickly re-developed in the southern Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday. The system strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday afternoon, with winds quickly topping 85 mph.
Harvey continued intensify on Friday, reaching Category 3 strength around mid-afternoon, making it a major hurricane. The storm further intensified, and ultimately made landfall near Rockport, TX as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph. Hurricane and Tropical Storm Warnings remain posted for nearly the entire coast of Texas through the weekend.
Initial impacts in the form of heavy rain, increasing winds, and scattered tornadoes have been felt in southeast Texas since early Friday. Tree and structural damage will continue as the storm makes slow progress inland.
Wind damage will undoubtedly be enough of a problem on its own, but flooding along the coast from storm surge is also expected to do considerable damage to shoreline communities from Brownsville to Galveston, and possibly even the city of Houston. Near the eye of the storm, surge levels could range anywhere from 6-12 feet, with locally higher levels possible.
The widespread threat of a life-threatening storm surge has even prompted the first-ever issuance of Storm Surge Watches and Warnings by the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service.
Beyond the initial flooding brought ashore by the storm surge, disastrous flooding is expected well into inland areas of Texas and possibly Louisiana. A high pressure system digging in across the Plains and here in the Great Lakes will cut Harvey off from any major steering currents shortly after it makes landfall.
With nothing to push it along, Harvey is expected to stall out over southeast Texas on Saturday evening as it gradually begins to weaken, and it will likely linger there through Tuesday.
With the storm still so close to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, weakening will be a slow process as abundant moisture still funnels into the storm. The end result will be nearly-constant rainfall for a 4-5 day period. Rainfall amounts during that time will easily range between 1-2 feet, and could even approach 3 feet in areas from Houston to Corpus Christi.
Even locations as far inland as Austin and San Antonio will likely see well over a foot of rainfall. Catastrophic flooding is likely along a wide swath of coastal and interior Texas.
A Streak Comes to an End
The last major hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005. The system cam ashore with 120 mph sustained winds in southern Florida. Exactly one month earlier, Hurricane Rita made the last landfall by a major hurricane in the state of Texas. Rita also registered sustained winds of 120 mph at the time of its landfall east of Galveston.
The last Category 4 hurricane to strike the United States was Charley on August 13, 2004. The storm struck with 150 mph sustained winds, and was the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since Andrew in 1992.
You have to go back much farther to find the last Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Texas. That distinction goes to Hurricane Carla on September 11, 1961, nearly 56 years ago.
Beyond the Gulf Coast
We will be keeping a very close eye on Harvey over the next several days, as there is a small possibility that some of its remnant moisture may find its way northward into the Great Lakes next week.
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