Written by experts Pat Collins and John Halloran.
2017 was officially a monster year for deadly storms in the United States: In 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the nation’s second-most costly hurricane on record.
This was the most deadly hurricane Texas had experienced in more than a century. 68 people died; all but three of these deaths were caused by freshwater flooding, while a further 35 people died from related incidents, like car accidents.
Hurricane Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4 storm on 25th August 2017. According to the National Hurricane Centre, Harvey caused a whopping $125 billion in damages.
Two locations experienced 5-feet of rain when the wind and rain made landfall. Winds were measured at 130-miles per hour and the storm surge reached up to 10-feet above ground level. 52 tornadoes occurred because of Hurricane Harvey. Downtown Houston was flooded. The metro area of Houston, which is the nation’s fourth-largest city with 6.6 million residents, was flooded.
In the history of the United States, Hurricane Katrina is the only natural disaster to cause more damage than Hurricane Harvey. Record levels of rain were dumped by Harvey, causing extreme flooding. On 1st September 2017 at the peak of the storm, one-third of Houston was underwater. Because of the flooding, 32,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes and move into shelters.
Consider this figure for a moment: 1 trillion gallons of rain! That’s how much rain fell on Houston in just four days! For a record 117 days Hurricane Harvey raged, stalling for 4-days over the coast. Over a 6-day period Harvey made landfall three times.
The massive impact of Hurricane Harvey was due to a combination of factors – the location, the power of the storm, and it’s duration.
Hurricane Harvey and the Damage It Caused
Timeline of Hurricane Harvey
August 25th: Hurricane Harvey reached landfall with 130 mph winds; this occurred at Fulton, near Corpus Christi, Texas. While there was a storm surge in excess of 12-feet above ground level, a peak wind gust of 145-mph was recorded at the Aransas County Airport.
August 26th: Harvey moved on to Houston where it stayed for four days. More than 3-feet of rainfall fell over a large portion of the area. It was reported that a level of flooding like this had a less than 0.1 chance of occurring.
August 29th: Harvey made landfall for a third time, smashing the coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur on the border of Louisiana. The rain fell at a rate of 2 – 3 inches per hour.
August 31st: In Crosby, an Arkema chemical plant ignited. In order to stay inert these chemicals needed refrigeration, so when the cooling equipment was disabled by the storm, temperatures increased and the chemicals ignited.
September 1st: Hurricane Harvey pelted 12-inches of rain on Nashville in Tennessee.
Global Warming Made Hurricane Harvey Worse
Climatologists agree that its highly likely global warming contributed to the impact of Hurricane Harvey. Studies found that, because of global warming, the amount of rain that fell was 38% higher. This phenomenon occurred for three reasons; the convergence of all three meant that Harvey dropped rain in feet instead of inches.
MIT Models show that by the year 2035 more hurricanes will be created by global warming. 11% of those will be Category, 3, 4, and 5. In addition, there will be 32 super-extreme storms carrying winds travelling more than 190 miles per hour.
Comparing Damage Caused By Hurricane Harvey with Other Natural Disasters
Allowing for inflation, the damage bill for Hurricane Harvey was $125-billion, which is less than the $160-billion damage bill for Katrina. However, Harvey’s bill is a lot more than another 2017 storm called Hurricane Maria, which incurred a damage bill of $90-billion.
The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was unusual inasmuch as Harvey hovered over a major metropolitan area a lot longer than most hurricanes. A wider comparison shows the cumulative cost of $495-billion in damages for the five worst hurricanes on record.
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