Author: Albert Ramon
For Texans living along the coast, hurricane seasons come and go. In the last half-century, several strong hurricanes have hit, but nothing like Hurricane Harvey. It had been nearly 60 years since a Hurricane as powerful as Harvey hit the state.
Category 4 Carla made landfall along the middle Texas Coast in 1961, killing 46 people. Harvey killed 68, more than half in Harris County alone.
Harvey was not just powerful, but huge, impacting about a third of the state.
At landfall, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 150 miles per hour near Rockport.
In Nederland, Texas, along with the upper Texas coast, the NWS said over 60 inches of rain saturated the area.
What surprised meteorologists the most was just how fast Harvey strengthened, going from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 36 hours.
“I think atmospheric and oceanic conditions were all just about perfect for rapid strengthening during that period,” said Lower Colorado River Authority Meteorologist Bob Rose. “We saw some of the warmest Gulf temperatures that we've ever seen.”
Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were between 88 to even 90 degrees. This was the jet fuel Harvey used to explode into a major hurricane in a short time period.
“The timing of it was perfect. As it was coming onshore, it was gaining strength as opposed to weakening, as most of them kind of do,” said NWS Meteorologist Paul Yura.
The storm aiming right for Texas, with the surge, wind and a historic amount of rain.
“From a meteorology standpoint, when you start seeing weather models producing 40 and 50 inches of rain, something we've never seen in our careers a weather model produce, it becomes a little unnerving,” said Yura.
As much as 20 to 30 inches of rain fell just east of Austin -- right along the Colorado River basin.
“We saw a huge flood wave move from Smithville down to La Grange, down through the rest of the river as well,” said Rose. "The river gauge in La Grange rose to its third highest level ever recorded. Much of the town was under water, and many structures were inundated as well,” continued Rose.
So, why was Harvey so powerful, and could climate change have played a role?
“It's still too early to tell about what effect climate change has on the number of hurricanes and the intensity of the hurricane,” explained Yura. “We need more data, and more time, and more hurricanes, and more events to see if the numbers are increasing.”
For now, meteorologists will continue to study the data, which will hopefully lead to better forecasting and a better chance to save lives.
“There is still a lot of science and a lot of work that our modelers are going to have to try to do, to try to capture this sort of quick intensification.”