Hurricane Harvey: Wind and Heavy Rain Churn Toward Texas Coast – New York Times
• Hurricane Harvey, powered by the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters and poised to strike the United States as a major hurricane, swept toward Texas on Friday. High winds and dozens of inches of rain were expected to begin battering coastal and inland communities.
• The storm could make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane or higher — with winds of at least 111 miles per hour — by early Saturday near Corpus Christi, Tex., the National Weather Service said.
• Harvey is expected to stall over Texas, and could dump more than 35 inches of rain onto some areas, overwhelming bayous and flooding streets.
• For breaking news, follow @nytimes on Twitter. National correspondents tracking the storm include @mannyNYT in Corpus Christi, @alanblinder and @ckrausss in Houston, @viaSimonRomero in Albuquerque, N.M., and @jswatz in New York.
Prone to flooding, Houston readies for ‘a rainmaker.’
Even when a hurricane is not menacing the Texas coast, Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, is flood-prone. But emergency officials said they did not expect to order evacuations as the storm that Mayor Sylvester Turner called “a rainmaker” neared.
Residents cleared grocery store shelves and airports braced for the possibility of delays. The school district has canceled events on Friday as well as classes on Monday.
Houston is within the zone that is expected to receive 15 to 25 inches of rain, and the forecast has revived memories of past storms. In 2001, for instance, a tropical storm named Allison inundated southeast Texas and was blamed for 22 deaths in the area.
The storm was far from the first major flooding episode: The Harris County Flood Control District notes that the area “flooded from the beginning” — Houston was founded in 1836 — and that the county usually experiences some major flooding every two years or so.
Government officials spent some of their time this week batting down rumors and speculation. Mr. Turner complained that “false forecasts and irresponsible rumors on social media” were interfering with efforts to distribute accurate information.
This is the REAL rainfall forecast. Ignore unfounded rumors about this storm. Follow @NWSHouston and @hcfcd for weather info. #Harvey https://t.co/sH6fR7wphT
“Rumors are nothing new,” Mr. Turner said, “but the widespread use of social media has needlessly frightened many people today.” — ALAN BLINDERin Houston
An unblinking eye.
NASA tweeted an image of the churning center of the storm.
Travelers have been grounded.
Dozens of flights had already been canceled on Friday morning as airports along the Texas coast warned that Harvey could disrupt travel for days. In Houston, many flights were still operating on time, but 101 flights had been canceled at the city’s two major airports by late morning, and dozens more were delayed.
At Corpus Christi International Airport, all flights after 7 a.m. were canceled. South of there, at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, morning flights were operating as scheduled, but most afternoon trips were canceled. And at the airport in McAllen, there was a mix of cancellations and on-schedule flights.
Farther inland, FlightView reported few significant delays, with flights in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio mostly operating as scheduled on Friday morning. But even in some of those cities, officials were warning of potential disruptions to come.
San Antonio International Airport had posted warnings about Harvey on its Twitter page, including a retweeted view of the hurricane bearing down on the state. — MITCH SMITH
Climate change has added some new questions.
John Schwartz, who covers climate and the environment for The New York Times, writes that the relationship between hurricanes and climate change is not simple. Some things are known with growing certainty — rising sea levels makes storm surge worse. Others, not so much.
One unresolved question, Mr. Schwartz writes, is whether climate change is affecting the number and the intensity of the storms. It could be making some stronger, and certainly wetter. In the article, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and one of the authors of a sweeping climate science report, notes that scientists are not saying that hurricanes are necessarily caused by climate change, but are being affected by them.
“We care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the natural risks and hazards that we already face,” she said. “People always want to know is it climate change or is it not? The answer is it’s in between.” Read more »
Leave town, coastal counties urge.
Seven coastal counties from Corpus Christi to the western end of Galveston ordered mandatory evacuations of at least some areas. Mayor Joe McComb of Corpus Christi encouraged residents to leave voluntarily.
The turmoil could easily last into next week.
“It is critical that users not focus on the exact forecast track of Harvey since cycle-to-cycle adjustment are likely,” the National Hurricane Center said in one of its updates on Thursday. “All locations within the hurricane and storm surge warning areas should be preparing for the possibility of major hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge.”
With the ultimate path of the storm uncertain, the governors of Louisiana and Texas have declared emergencies. In addition to the evacuation orders from some counties, school districts have canceled classes, and residents have been rushing to prepare their homes and businesses. — ALAN BLINDER in Houston
The new head of FEMA faces his first big test.
With the storm, the Trump administration faces its first test in dealing with a major natural disaster. The storm will also be the first major challenge for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Brock Long, who was confirmed as director in June by the Senate.
Mr. Long was the director of Alabama’s disaster relief agency when Hurricane Katrina hit the state in 2005, and his selection has inspired confidence among lawmakers and state disaster relief officials.
Lanita Lloyd, the president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, a trade group, told The Times last month that Mr. Long was battle-tested.
“He’s someone we know and trust and will have the agency prepared for whatever disaster might hit.” Read more » — RON NIXON in Washington
Hurricanes are always a worry for Houston.
People have been worried about big hurricanes hitting Houston for a long time.
Damage to the area’s industrial sprawl of petrochemical plants, or disrupting traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, could damage the United States economy — and could release poisons and carcinogens, as this project from the Texas Tribune and ProPublica, as well as this essay in The New York Times from last year by the novelist Roy Scranton make clear.
But it doesn’t take a major hurricane to hit Houston hard. A tropical storm, Allison, which struck the city in June 2001, caused $5 billion in flood damage. Hurricane Rita, in 2005, never struck the city directly, but the evacuation, spurred by the recent horror of Katrina in New Orleans, caused disastrous traffic jams; more than 100 people died while trying to get out of town. — JOHN SCHWARTZ
Refineries are bracing for impact.
Refineries across the Texas coast have shut down their operations in preparation for landfall of the hurricane, as workers laid down sandbags to lessen the possibility of salt water flooding into their operations.
Gasoline prices were bound to rise, at least for a few days, because Corpus Christi and Houston, major refinery hubs, are in the primary target zone of winds of over 100 miles an hour, surging tides and heavy rains. While oil prices have not soared even as many offshore production platforms have been shut, gasoline futures in New York have risen to their highest levels of the summer driving season. So far, though, prices at the pump around the Gulf region remain at historically low levels for this time of year, and more than a dime below the national average of $2.35.
Drivers in the Houston area waited in lines at the pump Thursday night, preparing for several days of shortages.
Nearly a third of the country’s refinery capacity is along the Gulf Coast between Lake Charles in western Louisiana and Corpus Christi in South Texas. Aside from the refineries, Corpus Christi is the main port for oil and gasoline exports. The port has been closed. Meanwhile Conoco Phillips and several other companies have suspended drilling operations in the Eagle Ford oil and gas shale field to the south and west of Corpus Christi. — CLIFFORD KRAUSS in Houston
Harvey Wallbangers have become Houston’s unofficial storm drink. Bobby Heugel, the manager of the cocktail bar Anvil, posted a discussion about the history of the drink to Facebook, and included a recipe. — MICHAEL HARDY in Houston
It’s not just the wind, it’s the water.
Forecasters are saying this is the first major hurricane to hit the United States in 12 years. That’s the kind of statement that is accurate, but galling for those who went through storms like Sandy in the Northeast in 2012, or Ike, which was so destructive to the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008.
The distinction is this: to be called a major storm, a hurricane must be Category 3 or higher on the Saffer-Simpson hurricane wind scale, which means winds of 111 to 119 miles an hour. Those winds can bring “devastating” damage, stripping off roof decking and bringing down many trees. Ike was a Category 2, though it pushed a monster storm surge. Sandy had become what is known as a post-tropical storm before it made landfall.
The lesson is that it is not just wind that makes a storm dangerous. Storm surge, the water that a hurricane pushes ahead of it, can be tremendously destructive. Much more harm was done to New Orleans during Katrina because of the surge — which overwhelmed the area’s faulty levees — than the wind.
Beyond surge is the rainwater. Tropical Storm Allison was not even at hurricane strength when it came to Houston in 2001, but it sat over the city in much the way that Harvey is expected to do. Southeast Texas suffered nearly $5 billion in damage from the storm, with 22 deaths. — JOHN SCHWARTZ
Mexican authorities issue safety warnings.
Mexico, through its National Weather System, issued a statement on Friday morning forecasting “intense storms” in the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila near the Gulf. The Mexican authorities strongly recommended that people in the region take safety precautions due to heavy rain, wind and waves. — PAULINA VILLEGAS in Mexico City
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