Stormwatch: How Hurricane Harvey Rewrote the Rules of The Storm Cycle

Editors Note: When we started Stormwatch (as a subset of The Nightshift) to cover Hurricane Harvey,  we noted that coverage would continue as long as the storm was present and power was available. Since then (Friday) we lost power, the storm came–and stayed–and then we managed to regain power, so Stormwatch will continue to chronicle the unprecedented weather event that is Hurricane Harvey. If you’re affected by the storm–we wish you good luck and urge you to be safe.  Harvey just doesn’t want to leave the area and that’s a problem. Read on. 
The Latest Word: 
Embed from Getty Images
(Houston, Texas 28 August 2017)
Those who live along the coast and in areas that are susceptible to hurricanes know about the cycle of such storms. They have a pattern, and while knowing the pattern doesn’t relieve any of the effects of the storm, it does provide a certain level of understanding about what’s happening and where, precisely, the hurricane is in it’s cycle of destruction.

  1. A storm is forming. The weather forecasting projects the formation of a weather event, beginning with conditions that could create a “tropical storm”. As the weather conditions organize, the tropical storm gathers itself up, gets a name and Tropical Storm designation, and then–if it continues to grow– reaches Hurricane designation (i.e. winds above 75MPH).
  2. Projected Path. The weather forecasters get on it and start projecting paths for the new weather event. This typically starts at the National Weather Service, but very quickly, the local weather teams from TV and radio stations pick up coverage. At this stage, there are a lot of different paths for the storm to go, so everything is a combination of best projection/guess. This stage will include not only the path (projected) of the storm but the timeline. Tensions are raised, preparations start for those in the projected path of the storm.
  3. Landfall Projection. Time passes, the projections from various sources (European Model, HRRR, etc.) converge and some type of general agreement is reached about a most likely projection for landfall in terms of geography and timing. Those who have not yet gone to the store to refresh their supplies, get water and batteries, and stock up to “ride out the storm”, converge on grocery stores, Walmarts, Costco, and every outlet that has provisions. Within a day, shelves of key supplies become empty. Resupplies are generally unpredictable. Media outlets stage units, reporters, cameramen in the general area to cover the event. TV Coverage ramps up. Networks send reporting teams into the area.
  4. Landfall. The storm is now focused and the landfall projection is agreed. Media coverage ramps up yet again as announcers and reporting teams venture out into the face of the storm to provide coverage (i.e. newscasters leaning into blinding rain and wind). Inside the direct storm area, if residents have not evacuated, they are sheltering in place. The landfall is covered via every form of media and the broadcasting/news is continuous. The fury of the storm hits, the wind blows signs and trees and tower poles down, rain comes down in torrential sheets. Horrific stories abound. It doesn’t sound good or look good.
  5. The Eye. The storm slams into the landing area and the winds and rain do all kinds of damage. Tornados spring up (typically in daylight landfall). And then–the eye of the hurricane passes over the landfall area, it becomes quiet, the storm abates. But it’s only a brief respite, and then the second part of the storm hits, the “other side” of the eye and continues to damage the area. And then, it moves over the affected area.
  6. The Storm Passes.  Depending upon ground speed, the storm does it damage and moves further inland. The further from the ocean it moves, the less power it packs (theoretically). As it goes further from the point of landfall, the storm dissipates (theoretically) in fury. The faster the storm moves, the sooner the process of cleanup, recovery, rescue, and rebuilding can begin.There is a sign of relief from those who survived the hurricane landfall without severe damage and a sigh of sorrow from those who were hit hard and suffered destruction. But–it’s over. The storm has passed, now the clean up can begin. The cycle is complete. For this hurricane.

But this time, Hurricane Harvey rewrote the cycle and the rules. Nature is like that–unpredictable, mercurial, not prone to following rules. It did follow the typical, traditional path for a hurricane weather event–at least stages 1-5.
It did not pay attention to Stage 6 and keep moving out of the area.
Harvey has decided to linger. It has a very slow groundspeed (between 2-10MPH throughout the storm period) and continues to drop rain across the area. Especially hard hit is Houston, where rain continues to come down in torrents, with only slight relief. The city is flooded out as a result of the relentless rain. By now, the storm should have passed through and the destructive capacity of the storm (wind, rain), should have degraded.
It hasn’t happened.
There has even been some suggestion that Harvey will go back into the Gulf, regain strength, and then come back onshore again, this time further up the coast (i.e. Houston) than where it first went ashore (Corpus Christi area).
The length of time that Harvey has stayed in the area and the sheer amount of rainfall it has produced has overwhelmed the City of Houston, which traditionally has issues with flooding during big rainstorms and hurricanes. With Harvey, there has been no relief. It is the storm that will not relent, the storm that will not leave, the storm that will not dissipate.
Football games have halftimes. There’s a break in between rounds in a championship fight. Even in warfare, generals stage campaigns and assaults with planning for re-supplying and resting the troops, re-gathering resources, re-setting how to proceed. But there is no rest in the battle against Hurricane Harvey. The storm will not follow the rules, won’t give the area a break, and the level of attrition from just the sheer fatigue of dealing with continuous weather attacks(from the air) and water intrusion (from the ground) is wearing the city and its’ people down. It has to stop. There has to be a respite, soon. The extended nature of the severe weather event is taking a massive toll, because there’s time for relief or respite.
There is no precedent to a storm like Hurricane Harvey  but that makes no difference to the people and the area. The rules of the hurricane storm cycle have been changed and now everyone suffers.
The Fine Print: Image embed courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. The image has not been altered in any way. We thank them for sharing. Stormwatch is produced by Perception Engineering and The Media Bunker. Stay safe and stay dry. 

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