Hurricane Harvey: 6 Astounding Details And Facts About America's Most Devastating Natural Disaster
1. A Brief Summary of Events
The date was August 13, 2017 when National Hurricane Center observers first noticed a tropical wave developing off the west coast of Africa. By August 17, the NHC was concerned enough to send an Air Force Reserve "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft to fly into the storm for observation.
After passing over the Yucatan Pennisula on August 22 and 23, early in the morning on August 24, as the tropical wave continued churning northwestward toward Texas, it was officially named Tropical Storm Harvey. In less than 24 hours it became a bonafide hurricane and on August 25 it had reached Category 3 strength and was given the name "Harvey."
Shortly before making landfall in Texas on Friday, August 25th, Harvey was upgraded to a deadly Category 4. It was the first major hurricane to make U.S. landfall since 2005's Hurricane Wilma which crossed from the Caribbean, northeast over southern Florida before moving out to sea in the Atlantic.
Harvey initially followed the same Caribbean track as Wilma, but instead of making a right turn toward Florida, it moved north to the Houston area. After several days of soaking the Houston area with record rainfall, Harvey retraced its original path a short distance and then turned to the northeast, moving through Louisiana and up through Tennesse, Kentucky, and Ohio. Even though it lost its hurricane status after moving out of Texas and Louisiana, Harvey's heavy rains caused major flooding as it cut through America's midwest and exited into Canada near Quebec.
All-in-all, the area around Houston would suffer from four days of high winds and torrential rainfall, making Hurricane Harvey the costliest natural disaster to ever hit the United States.
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2. How Much Rainfall Fell
Most areas in southern Texas affected by the hurricane got three to four feet of rain in a matter of several days. Houston got over 30 inches of rain, and the nearby town of Cedar Bayou set a new continenal storm record for rain with almost 52 inches of rain during the storm.
The 52 inches of rain dumped on Cedar Bayou in four days is equal to four entire years of rain for the state of Utah.
The old Texas record was 48 inches back in 1978 when tropical cyclone Amelia hit Medina which is a small town about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio.
One of the most disturbing Hurricane Harvey facts is that experts estimate that more than 20 trillion gallons of rain fell during the storm. To put this in perspective, if that much water went into the five Great Lakes, they would all rise by over 11 inches. All five.
Put another way, if you were to fill every NFL football stadium, and every single college football stadium in America with water, this is still less than the 20 trillion+ gallons Harvey dumped on Texas.
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3. How Many States Did Harvey Affect?
The more than 400-mile wide Harvey hurricane did most of its damage to southern Texas. But it also caused widespread flooding and damage in Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio before moving into Canada, after becoming a weakened but still dangerous storm.
A Harvey-spawned tornado in Reform, Alabama destroyed property and sent four people to the hospital. Two other twisters caused structural damage to a number of homes. In Memphis, Tennessee nearly 20,000 residents lost power, low-lying streets were underwater, and one traffic fatality was attributed to the storm. And in Nashville, many roads and some structures were flooded, but only 50 residents needed to be evacuated.
As Hurricane Harvey's path continued to take it inland, it spawned nearly a dozen tornadoes as it moved across the country.
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4. Costliest Natural Disaster in American History
While the exact total will probably never be known, experts at AccuWeather and Texas governor Greg Abbott estimate Hurricane Harvye's damage will eventually total almost $200 billion dollars. This eclipses by far the previous damage record-holder, Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in 2005, causing an estimated $150 billion in damage.
To put this into perspective, the nearly $200 billion cost of Hurricane Harvey is equal to the annual GDP of the entire state of Oklahoma or Iowa, or countries like Peru and Vietnam.
This $200 billion represents approximately one-percent of America's $19 trillion GDP and will have a negative effect on America's economic growth.
The number of homes damaged or destroyed by the hurricane was 200,000 and only 85 percent of the homeowners had flood insurance. Nearly 72,000 people had to be rescued, and 35,000 found refuge in shelters. Unlike its slow start in New Orleans with Katrina, FEMA responded quickly to the disaster where the damage was so extensive and the need was so great, what was remaining of FEMA 's entire 2017 budget of $1 billion was used up in just 10 days.
Furthermore, the damage done to the state's retail industry was staggering and affected the entire American economy.
According to weather analytics firm Planalytics, lost revenue to Houston area retailers and restaurants alone was expected to reach or exceed $1 billion.
5. How Does Hurricane Harvey Compare to Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy?
In terms of financial damage, the Harvey hurricane is the most expensive hurricane ever. With its nearly $200 billion in damages, it dwarfs both Katrina ($150 billion) and Sandy ($65 billion).
However with regard to loss of human life the Hurricane Harvey death toll thankfully was much less than Katrina or Sandy.
Katrina's major damage didn't come from the Category 3 winds or the five to 10 inches of rain that dropped. It largely came from storm surge as levees failed and sea water poured in flooding nearly the city of 450,000. In all, 1,833 people died from the hurricane's effects, and some bodies lay unattended for days. After a long rebuilding period, New Orleans eventually reestablished itself, but 50,000 of its residents never returned.
In Sandy's case, after crossing over eight countries and hitting the New Jersey and New York areas in 2012, it had killed 233 people in the eight countries it affected.
So in terms of lives lost, Katrina and Sandy killed more than 2,000 people, whereas the Hurricane Harvey death toll was less than 100 people.
As sad as the loss of more than 2,000 people from these hurricanes, the worst loss of life in U.S. history from a natural disaster happened in 1900 when a hurricane hit Galveston, Texas and killed 12,000 people. The second-closest U.S. disaster to kill so many people was the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco which killed 3,000 people.
With damage totals still being processed, Joseph Myers, the president of AccuWeather says Hurricane Harvey will easily be the costliest natural disaster in United States history.
6. The Aftermath and New Challenges
A week after the hurricane exited the state, Hurricane Harvey news was being updated by-the-hour. There were still 33,000 refugees in 280 shelters. There were 75 elementary schools damaged and officials couldn't say when classes would resume. Electricity was out in many areas, and rescuers had to be carefully for downed power lines which cost two rescue volunteers their lives. To make matters worse, drinking water was in short supply and area gasoline stations were all empty due to flooded roads preventing tanker trucks from delivering much-needed gasoline to stricken areas.
In order to prevent further catastrophes, close-to-overflowing reservoirs were drained and some residents who had escaped the hurricane's initial floodwaters now found their homes under two or three feet of reservoir water.
Experts at the CDC, concerned about the spread of disease, issued warnings about mosquito infestation and the proliferation of the Zika Virus which can be transmitted by mosquito bites. The virus is already found in dozens of U.S. states and the southeast is the most affected area. The millions of muddied pools of water only made the mosquito problem worse.
Furthermore, some places in flooded areas tested positive for the e.coli bacteria, sometimes as high as 250x above safety levels, and sent numerous people, already displaced from their homes to area hospitals for treatment. Houston's Health Department reported "millions of contaminants" were found in floodwaters, not only e.coli, but coliform bacteria as well. The contamination was so bad, warnings were issued about risks of contracting flesh-eating disease from the tainted waters.
Along with the mosquito problems, residents had to contend with venomous snakes, spiders, and even alligators were seen navigating the waters. In one case a homeowner came back to his flooded home to find a ten-foot alligator in his dining room.
Lastly, in what could add to the list of sick or deceased Texans who were in the flooded areas is the threat from mildew and black mold. Some homes were harboring the hard-to-see black mold under floors or behind walls causing even more health concerns for beleaguered homeowners. Damp areas feed toxic mold which produces spores. These microscopic spores can be inhaled and cause serious health problems, either during the reconstruction of the home or for years afterward if undetected.
Health and safety experts say there's always two parts to a natural disaster: the first is the event itself, and the second is the long-term health problems or dangers associated with the aftermath.
In the case of Hurricane Harvey, now widely considered to be our nation's costliest-ever natural disaster, the clean-up will take years.
© 2017 Tim Anderson