Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I've been looking at the website, taking note of the Hurricane Harvey as it was forming and moving across the Gulf of Mexico.  Just from interest.

Here is a screenshot of what Hurricane Harvey looked like on August 24th, when we were told it was developing into a category 4 storm, the largest in 12 years:

Note the date and time on the left hand side.

And here is what Harvey looked like, 36 hours before, at midnight on August 23rd:

Harvey formed in the southeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico, which happens ~ but category 4 storms do not come from here.  The Gulf of Mexico tends to form tropical storms, not all out hurricanes. Big hurricanes usually form like Irma, right now in the mid-Atlantic.  But this is not the only confusing thing about Harvey.  Have a look at the Gulf of Mexico, just 12 hours before the picture above, at noon on August 22nd:

No hurricane.  There's a Low sitting over the Yucatan peninsula, which in the afternoon of the 22nd moves over the west coast of the peninsula.  By evening, it's evident that the Low is strengthening into a hurricane and by midnight on the 23rd, there's Harvey.  Just 66 hours later, at 6pm on the 25th, it hits the coast of East Texas for the first time.

And it has played hell with the region, as it didn't just make landfall and break up, because there was a tremendous weather system inland that kept Harvey trapped on the coast.

As I write this, on August 31, here's a view of Harvey as it pours rain on the states of Arkansas and Mississippi:

Interesting stuff.  I had seen that there was a report of another hurricane forming the same way by the 4th of September.  This morning, as I was looking at these maps, that was the forecast.

However, as I look now, that hurricane is no longer expected to happen.  Good news.  But from what I see and hear, it could take three weeks for the water to drain off East Texas.  I also hear this is in great part from the failing of East Texan communities to spend a proper budget on drains, not to mention an irrational attitude towards zoning, that prohibits the sort of urban planning that would make it possible to shake off a storm like this when it happens.

I don't know what people are thinking where it comes to this sort of thing.


JB said...

Oh, just the usual American short-sightedness I'm sure.

Pretty awful what's going on down there. Some of those pix/videos from Houston remind me of Asuncion during the rainy season. Of course, Paraguay is a 3rd World country with precious little infrastructure...

Oakes Spalding said...

I'm not sure how zoning or urban planning would help, unless such planning included building a 20 foot high platform in a 10000+ square mile area. The whole place is just so damn low and flat. If the low fatality total persists, everyone involved should get a medal.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Some guest on a news program was talking about how in Houston, the zoning is so crazy that people put up office towers where across the street there's a cow pasture. That's problematic.

Part of the solution is, yes, building the sort of ditches that L.A. has. In Calgary, where we get flooding out of the mountains, the city has been on a 10 year program to sink a sewer system with 8' diameter pipes that run parallel to the river to direct the groundwater to pass out of the city below the level of the river. We did have a bad flood four years ago and the city stepped up their program; this is the sort of infrastructure I mean.

But most important, it's a careful planning that makes one edge of the city generally higher than the other edge, something that is done by ensuring that all the office towers are built in the same general area, so that multi-acre parking lots don't create large areas where the water can't seep into the ground; or ensuring that housing is built in planned neighborhoods, separated from zoned commercial regions that have the same parking lot problem. If people can just build whatever building wherever they please, the development of concrete surfacing tend to create depressions behind the lots, where steady seepage of water into the ground causes that ground to subside. Then, when the flooding gets worse, those depressions become semi-permanent lakes that do not drain off, but must remain until the water evaporates ~ or is expensively pumped out.

These are just surface problems. Urban planning is all important in this era. Ignoring it, because we don't want to pass laws that discourage people from doing whatever they damn well please (which Texans proudly proclaim) create huge problems of the sort we're seeing.

Oakes Spalding said...

I'm not ideological about it, and I'm willing to consider any reasonable point. But I'm not sure that captures the reality. I was just down there 2 weeks ago. My wife and family got out 3 days ago as part of a mandatory evacuation of part of Fort Bend county (a few miles from the Houston border. Her apartment complex was in the middle of a large residential area with no tall buildings (the only retail was a just opened mini-mall of 6 or 7 businesses.) I'm familiar with some of the other areas that were evacuated. Believe me, Lack of zoning had nothing to do with it (at least in those areas). Could they do things a bit differently next time? Sure. You learn. Then again, the rain they got in that area was dubbed an "800 year event." Do you plan for that? Maybe. But what about a 1600 year event?