Friday, August 25, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

Here in Texas we are currently preparing for Hurricane Harvey, which is driving directly for the Texas coast and recently was upgraded to a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale (wind speeds of 111-129 miles per hour). It will likely land near Corpus Christi tonight, although, of course, the outermost bands of the storm have already begun progressing inland in waves. Austin is deep enough in the Heart of Texas that we're not likely to get worse winds than 30-35 miles per hour; what we can expect is flooding for several days and perhaps some downed power lines. Since I live near the top of a ridge, the flooding is unlikely to be a serious problem for me -- most of Austin would have to be under water before it became a problem -- but as I live on the edge of Austin, power outages of uncertain duration are a real possibility, so I've been doing some minor preparation for that. If I lived in Houston or along the coast, I'd frankly be going on a weekend vacation right now. Fortunately, this is not Texas's first rodeo when it comes to major hurricanes, and we have none of the obvious engineering problems that made Hurricane Katrina such a disaster for New Orleans, so the infrastructure should hold up -- to the extent that it can, since we can still expect at least a couple of billion dollars in damage even at the very most optimistic. The big worry, of course, is oil; if the oil refineries are hit badly enough, there will be a cascade of further bad effects through the entire American economy. Really serious flooding could require months of recovery. We will just have to see.

UPDATED LATER (6:10 pm): And Harvey just got upgraded to Category 4, winds over 130 miles per hour.

UPDATED LATER (8/26, 1:40 pm): Harvey has been dropping in intensity all morning, and is now a tropical storm. This is what always happens with hurricanes, especially those that drive straight over land as Harvey did, and (despite how it might sound) does not actually reduce the danger -- hurricane-force winds can damage a lot, but with hurricanes the most serious damages, and often the most serious fatalities, tend to be from flooding, and the danger of flooding increases when hurricanes begin losing force. This storm is still long from over; it will be wandering over South Texas for a while yet.

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