Tropical Update: Harvey and Hurricane Safety

Hurricane Harvey, now 115 miles southeast of Corpus Christi Texas, has seen the maximum sustained winds increase to 110 this morning, just shy of major hurricane status.  The minimum central pressure has dropped 947 Millibars.  Harvey is expected to become a major hurricane today with winds increasing further to 120 mph.  As of this 11 AM EDT, the following watches and warnings are in effect.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to Sargent Texas.  Hurricane conditions will be occurring in these areas within the next 12-24 hours.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from south of Port Mansfield to the Mouth of the Rio Grande River and from North of Sargent to High Island Texas

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for South of the mouth of the Rio Grande to Boca de Catan Mexico

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to High Island Texas.  A Storm Surge Warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the indicated locations.  This is a life-threatening situation.  Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions. Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect from south of Port Mansfield to the Mouth of the Rio Grande.  A Storm Surge watch means there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland.   Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property and be on the look out for rising seas.

 

Forecast Information

Harvey

Hurricane Harvey continues to increase in strength this morning and is now approaching major hurricane status.   Harvey is expected to be a category 3 storm when he moves ashore in Texas.  Sustained winds are expected to be between 120 and 130 miles per hour with higher gusts.  Harvey will be bringing life-threatening storm surge, rainfall, and wind hazards to portions of the Texas coast. Preparations to protect life and property should be completed this morning, as tropical storm force winds will first arrive in the hurricane and storm surge warning areas later today.

Life-threatening storm surge flooding could reach heights of 6 to 12 feet above ground level at the coast between the north entrance of the Padre Island National Seashore and Sargent.  Devastating and life-threatening flooding is expected across the middle and upper Texas coast from heavy rainfall of 15 to 25 inches, with isolated amounts as high as 35 inches, from today through next
Wednesday.

Harvey will hug the coast after he moves inland, which could help prevent the quick weakening associated with land falling hurricanes.  While Harvey will still weaken, it may be a slower process and he could maintain Tropical Storm strength longer than usual.  Harvey is forecast to impact this area for several days.

Hurricane Harvey Hazards

Storm Surge and Storm Tide

Storm Surge and large waves are the greatest threats to life and property along the coast.  A storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds.  Many will remember the surge from Hurrican Ike is 2008.  Storm Surge with Harvey is expected to be as high as 12  feet in some locations (was 20 feet in Ike).  Please check your local media sources for the exact surge totals expected for your area.  Surge related flooding will be dependent on the exact timing and the tide and can vary greatly over short distances.  Large waves will also be a factor at the coast.  Based on the tide charts, Harvey should hit as tides are moving out and close to low tide, but onshore winds are possible during several tidal cycles.

Tornadoes

Hurricanes frequently produce tornadoes, usually in the embedded thunderstorms in the rain bands now beginning to hit the Texas coast line.  They can also be associated with the eye wall.  Tornadoes produced by these systems are usually weak and short lived, but they can be a threat to where they hit.  A Tornado watch is expected to be posted for coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana later today.

Winds

It goes without saying that winds are a major issue with Hurricanes.  Sustained winds with Harvey are expected to reach up to 120 mph with gusts reaching as high as 150 mph with some locally higher gusts.  Harvey is forecast to be a major Hurricane at landfall.

Rainfall

Forecasts for Harvey have indicated significant rainfall is possible, with some models showing over 30 inches of rain.  This will be a very long duration event and flooding and flash flooding will bea major issue for many areas.

Hurricane Safety

Evacuations

Many areas in Texas have had evacuation orders given, for those who are evacuating, you will need to determine a safe evacuation route inland.   While evacuating, you’ll want to monitor the latest information to ensure that you will be evacuating to a location that is not also under a risk.   Public services in these areas will already be strained and  adding many evacuees will only cause more strain for everyone.  Learning the location of official shelters will be helpful both in the event that you evacuate as well as for those who do not evacuate.  Areas that are not under evacuation orders should also have shelters for the residents who end up in trouble due to hurricane hazards.   Tornadoes, lightning, power outages, and property damage due to falling trees can force residents from their homes, even if a mass evacuation isn’t needed.  The good news is that a quick check of traffic in this region doesn’t show any, so many heeded these orders in advance.

When evacuating, put together a go-bag.  Include a disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate.  Snacks and stuff to drink will also be good for longer evacuations, especially with children.  While you may stop for gas, many others are also evacuating with you so its possible that many supplies will be sold out along your route.  If you haven’t already, fill up your gas tank in  your local area, gas supplies may also be strained along your route.  Cell phones should be charged before you leave.  Have one member of your family turn their phone off while travelling together.  This will ensure that if one phone does run out of battery, you will have another phone to turn on and use.  All family members should have all numbers for your phones and know to call multiple numbers if they can’t get a hold of you.

You should also inform someone of your plans.  If you fail to arrive at your destination due to a car accident, your contact can alert the authorities.  Having them know the route you planned to take is essential in locating you.

Stay tuned to local news outlets as you travel.  Conditions may change and areas you were heading to that were going to be safe may not be anymore.  Harvey is brining a large area of rain to Texas and the location you were heading for may end up under a flood warning when it wasn’t before.  Always ensure that the safety of your location is the top priority.

Staying at home

For those of you who are not leaving home, I would first implore you to heed local evacuations if you are under them.  Evacuation orders are given for a reason.  If you are under those orders it is absolutely not safe where you  are.  While I  do realize that some properties remain even in massively damaged areas, you only put yourself and those who would need to rescue you in the event of an emergency in danger by taking that gamble.  It is never just your survival on the line.

If you have not been ordered to evacuate, there are several things you should plan for.  First, as I mentioned above, have a plan to be able to evacuate to a local shelter if your house if one of the unfortunate locations that falls victim to one of the more local hurricane hazards.  Lighting occurs frequently within a hurricane and can strike even in areas where hurricane conditions are not occurring.  You should also have a plan for any pets you may have.  Not all shelters accept pets so ensure the one you may go to does.

What to bring to the shelter

You will need to make sure that you have everything you need at the shelter.  While the shelter will have supplies, they don’t usually carry specific medications or your specific brand of baby food.  Ensure that you have a first aid kit with all the medications taken by your family.  If you are running low, see if your local pharmacy can give you more.  Baby food and diapers will be needed.  Your baby should be prepared for a multiple day stay at the shelter.  Bring things to do as well.  Books, games for children, headphones and a source of music (we all know some of you still have a Walkman) will all be desired.  The shelter is not exactly a fun place to be.  Bring your toiletries and blankets.  The shelter will have some but we all prefer our own.  Flashlights and  batteries are good to have in case the power goes out at the shelter as well.  Also ensure you bring identification, cash and credit cards as well as copies of your essential documentation like proof of insurance.

Protecting your home

Be aware that Hurricane winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so before a hurricane trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.
Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.  This can also help keep them lighter and not fall under the weight of all the rain.  Reduce property damage by retrofitting to secure and reinforce the roof, windows and doors, including the garage doors.  Plywood over windows or close storm shutters if your house has them, this can protect them from wind and debris.  If you are construction inclined, hurricane clips can be installed in your attic to help secure your roof to the house.  While it is certainly too late to hire a contractor to do this for Harvey, other storms will come along and this can be done for future storms.  You can also brace your garage door and doors that lead outside with planks to keep it from blowing in.  You should also close all interior doors to compartmentalize the house.  This way, if a window does break in one area, the remaining areas will have protection against the elements coming in.   Purchasing a portable generator or installing a generator for use during power outages is also a good idea. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/heat sources outside, at least 20 feet away from windows and doors and protected from moisture.   You should never try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.  If power does go out, use a flashlight.  Candles are a fire hazard.

Keeping food and water safe

The most important thing when it comes to food is to buy nonperishable goods and to store water.   You do not need to buy multiple gallons of water for activities like brushing your teeth.  Simply refill an old milk or water bottle with tap water and use it.  You can do the same thing for bath water, pre-filling your tub is also recommended.   Tap water storage can be done with any container from large pots used for cooking to old bottles and even any large plastic container.  Always remember to keep using the tap water until it goes out, you don’t want to needlessly use up your supply and not be able to replenish it.  For any cold food you do have, turn your refrigerator and freezer to their maximum cold settings and open them as little as possible.  This will help keep things cold.  Try to use up any chilled foods first so that keeping things cold becomes unnecessary and have a supply of ice on hand to keep things cold longer.  While you can buy ice at the store, you can also just use ice cubes.  Simply dump your tray into a plastic bag and refill the trays.  Dump new ice cubes as they form and keep refilling the trays.  You will be able to continue this process for as long as you have power or tap water. This also creates an emergency water supply should you run out of water.  Simply melt the ice.  You can also use rain water if you have a safe way to get a bucket outside to collect some.   You should always try to keep a lid on your water supply.   This will keep dust and bugs out of it.

After the Storm

It will be tempting to go outside after the storm has passed or during the calm period in the eye.   This should be avoided.  The eye is only temporary and hurricane conditions can start very quickly.  After the storm, there will be a lot of damage in the region.  Floods could still be occurring and the water could be contaminated.  You also can’t see what’s in the water.  Animals and hazards in the water could be potentially dangerous to your health.  The water could even be electrically charged from downed power lines.

Even where roads are visible, bridges and roads may no longer be safe for the weight of a vehicle.

Once you are home, check for damage.  Ensure there are no downed wires, water or gas leaks, or damaged appliances in the home.

We here at Firsthand will do our utmost to keep you up to date with the latest information.  Our thoughts go out to those in the areas affected by Harvey.   Stay safe everyone.

 

Robert Millette

Incident Meteorologist

Braintree Emergency Management Agency