Speed Reads

Nature's Nightmares

Houston, Gulf Coast brace for Harvey, a potentially monstrous hurricane

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a pre-emptive state of disaster for 30 counties, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) set up a crisis task force to prepare for Tropical Storm Harvey, expected to make landfall in Texas on Friday night or Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane. The National Weather Service and state and local officials are especially worried about Harvey because it is slow-moving and expected to dump 10-15 inches of rain or more on Houston and surrounding areas over the weekend as it crawls northeastward. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever storm surge watch for Calhoun County, Texas, some 150 miles southwest of Houston, meaning that water could rise 4 to 6 feet above ground.

Harvey "could become the first major natural disaster of the Trump presidency," warns Eric Holthaus at Grist. "This is the kind of storm you drop everything to pay attention to." It has already been a wet August for the Texas Gulf Coast, and so the ground is saturated and primed to flood, while Houston is especially vulnerable to devastating floods because of poor city planning and lots of pavement, he notes, and the worst models have 20 to 40 inches of rain dumping on parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Then there's the warming climate, Holthaus says:

Floods like the one in the worst Harvey forecasts have come at an increasingly frequent pace. Since the 1950s, the Houston area has seen a 167 percent increase in heavy downpours. At least four rainstorms so severe they would occur only once in 100 years under normal conditions have hit the area since May 2015. With a warmer climate comes faster evaporation and a greater capacity for thunderstorms to produce epic deluges. ... If Harvey's rains hit the coast with anywhere near the force of the most alarming predictions, we'd be in for disaster. And judging by how New Orleans and Houston have handled recent rains, coupled with the state of federal disaster relief, we're not ready for it. [Grist]

You can read more about Harvey's dangers at Grist.