The different responses to hurricane Katrina and Harvey.

The hurricane Katrina was our costliest hurricane this far. Not the deadliest, that was the 1900 Galveston hurricane that killed 6 to 12,000 people. At that time it had passed through the Florida Strait as a tropical storm, so the Galveston people didn’t take it seriously, after all they had an 8 foot seawall. It entered as a category 4 hurricane, the storm surge was 15 feet, topped the seawall and wiped out the city like a tsunami.

I have always been fascinated by hurricanes, the enormous energy they disperse and how beautiful they appear from space. So  it was on Aug 27, 2005 that I watched the press conference with the Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco reassuring the people “I believe we are prepared,” she said in Jefferson Parish. “That’s the one thing that I’ve always been able to brag about.”

Though experts had warned it would take 48 hours to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco did not order a mandatory evacuation that Saturday.

“We’re going to pray that the impact will soften,” she said.

 

Later the same day in city Hall she is still trying to decide when or if to reverse flow on the highways, she has still no clue on how severe the situation is and refuses to hear the warnings from NHC that warned more or less that an unprecedented catastrophe is coming. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin agreed that he would take care of his people.

The next day the hurricane had grown to category 5 and everybody that could started to evacuate with or without an evacuation order, but it wasn’t until 20 hours before landfall that she ordered mandatory evacuation and reversed direction on all the exit highways. Everybody that could evacuate had already started, so the coaches were picked up by the hotels to evacuate the tourists. The traffic  jams were enormous since everybody tried to get out at the same time. They more or less knew the levies would be topped, but even then Mayor Nagin refused to use the school buses to evacuate. He claimed “My people will not be bused in  school buses, they deserve coaches.

The U.S. government begged repeatedly that the governor would call in  the national guard, but she refused. The Federal government considered calling in the U.S. military, but decided against it, since it is against the law unless the governor authorizes it.

It had landfall as a category 3 hurricane east of New Orleans so the major storm surge, 26 feet high, hit Mississippi and wiped out casinos and other structures at the coast, and hurricane winds affected an area the size of England. New Orleans was on the west side of the path, so New Orleans was spared an over topping of the levees. That is, until the next morning one levee gave way due to incorrect secured footing and New Orleans got flooded.

FEMA was still busy cleaning up from earlier hurricanes, so new people needed to be hired or transferred to other department, but to work for FEMA you needed at least 3 days extra of sensitivity training, so  FEMA paperwork got delayed another week.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but President Bush is still getting blamed for it.

Image result for hurricane Katrina

Not so with Hurricane Harvey. It also grew very rapidly from a tropical disturbance to a major hurricane and was still growing at landfall as a category 4 hurricane. It looked like it was going to get inland fast and follow the normal path and rain out while moving rapidly, but instead it got blocked by two high pressures and decided to stall after rainfall, move back into the gulf, picking up more rain and then rain out over Houston and surrounding areas. The wind damage and storm surge was normal for a category 4 hurricane, but the staying in place for a long time made it the rainiest hurricane ever hitting the U.S. mainland, with some areas around Houston getting over 50 inches of rain.

Yet the hurricane response has been nothing short of excellent. The Governor of Texas acted early in cooperation with the Federal Government to pre-stage national guard and supplies in conjunction with local government. But the thing that made the biggest difference has been the volunteer response from thousands of people with high clearance trucks and boats evacuating thousands of people. About he only thing going wrong was the mayor of Houston discouraging early evacuation when he knew the rains were going to be horrendous.

It is going to be the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but without the volunteer response and excellent cooperation between all levels of government it could have been so much worse.

The American spirit is alive and well in Texas, as is the Trump leadership

Houston’s vulnerability to flooding is getting worse.

The pictures from Houston are horrific, with water, water everywhere and roads flooded in so many places that the only way to evacuate people is with boat.  But is it unprecedented? Here are photos of the flood of Dec 1935.

Houston is built on what was once swampland and river delta-land leading into Galveston bay.  Houston is now a concrete and asphalt jungle as seen in these photos

There have been many flood disasters in the Houston area, even dating to the mid-1800s when the population was very low. In December of 1935 a massive flood occurred in the downtown area as the water level height measured at Buffalo Bayou in Houston topped out at 54.4 feet.

By way of comparison, as of 6:30 a.m. this (Monday) morning, the water level in the same location is at 38 feet, which is still 16 feet lower than in 1935. But Buffalo Bayou is still rising.

Buffalo Bayou at low level.

Here is a map of Houston in 1940 and 2017. Green area is undisturbed land, red area is over 50% filled with buildings, asphalt or concrete. In these areas no water is absorbed into the ground.

The drying up of what was originally wetland leads

to a rapid sinking of the Houston area. See map of Harris County of which Houston is a part.

 

 

 

Most of Houston has dropped about 5 feet  since 1920, but near the bayou levels has dropped about 10 feet. It is not ocean rising, it is land sinking, since undisturbed land is not sinking.

Vulnerability to flooding will only get worse from now on.

The energy in Hurricane Harvey

A Hurricane takes energy from the ocean and releases it in the form of rain and wind. We measure hurricanes in categories dependent on the sustainable winds, but the wind energy is so much less than water energy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of hurricane Harvey. It had landfall as a category 4. At landfall Harvey generated about 6 million Megawatts  of energy or about twice as much as the world wide electrical energy produced, but it is reduced rapidly as Harvey is reduced to a tropical storm to less than a quarter of that.

This is a lot of energy, but it is dwarfed by the energy released in the condensation of the water vapor in the form of rain. This is about 800 million Megawatts, and continues in the case of Harvey for 6 days, since it got stuck near landfall and is constantly fed more energy from the ocean. This is about 250 times the worldwide electrical energy produced, and since Harvey lasts a week, that is the equivalent of about 4 years of worldwide electrical production.

The energy was generated by cooling the Mexican Gulf. Since it has been 14 years since the last major hurricane we were overripe for another major hurricane in the Gulf.

But that is not the only cooling Harvey provided. When the Sun shines over water 90 percent of all the sun’s energy is absorbed. The hurricane cloud is large, up to 500 miles in diameter or 200,000 square miles. The sun’s rays has an incoming energy of about 400 Watts per square meter, and the clouds reflect about 90 percent of the sun’s rays back into space rather than getting absorbed in the ocean or over land. The cooling effect of the hurricane Harvey from clouds is about 100 million megawatts during daytime  as long as the clouds exist. This alone is more than thirty times the worldwide electricity production.

 

The hurricane drought is over! A Limerick.

Forty three hundred twenty four days

since big hurricane entered our bays.

A new record for calm

in the hurricane realm.

We’ll soon enter a new cooling phase.

The last major hurricane hitting the mainland U.S. was Wilma, Oct.2005.

It was much bigger as a hurricane than today’s Harvey, but Harvey is unique since it will get stuck in nearly the same place for six days, causing unprecedented rains.

—This is not climate change, it is two blocking highs that prevents Harvey to go up the East Coast and rain out in the Northern Atlantic.

This means an earlier winter in the Arctic!