TD/TS/Hurricane Harvey: To Evacuate or Not to Evacuate

I did not write this, and do not want to subject the friend who I’ve copied it from to any unwanted attention because of it. I do not know who the original author is, but extend to that person my thanks and deep appreciation for writing such an excellent post.


For those not affected by Harvey but are wondering how bad it really is in the Houston area and why, this is for you.

First of all, this is being called a catastrophic flooding event, not simply serious or even severe. Catastrophic. Not even a 100-year flood (which we seem to get pretty regularly these days) but a flood of the millennium.

Houston is flat. Houston is exceedingly large in area. There’s a LOT of concrete and buildings, not an abundance of green areas (but we’re trying), and heavy clay soil. The area is criss-crossed by untold number of waterways – dry most of the time and often ignored – and new construction requires building retention ponds nearby (also empty most of the time).

Most of the time, when it rains here, everything works as it is designed without too many problems. When we get a lot of rain, concrete and clay soil don’t absorb water and the runoff heads to ditches, retention ponds, creeks and bayous. It’s not unusual to have street flooding when drainage systems are overwhelmed but it usually goes down fairly quickly. We are known for many low spots in major roads and drivers regularly ignore warning signs and/or media reports, choosing instead to drive through…and suffer the consequences (from ruining their car to drowning).

Then comes Hurricane Harvey.

All kinds of weather people predicted exactly what ended up happening – Harvey strengthened to a Cat 4 right before coming ashore and proceeded to stall as intensity diminished. Unfortunately it stalled right where the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico continued to feed the storm. The right side, known as the dirty side, continues absorbing water and building the outer rain bands while another front tries to push it down from the north, resulting in continuing the counterclockwise motion of a tropical storm. And so all of this weather sits on top of Houston, the 4th largest city in our country.

Now… mix weather and geography… and we end up with catastrophic flooding.

The big question I’ve heard asked is why didn’t you all evacuate? Uh, no. First rule of hurricanes – evacuate from storm surge and wind, not rain. Besides, evacuation was tried when Hurricane Rita threatened us. People jumped in their cars and promptly got trapped in a massive traffic jam lasting almost 24 hours. They ran out of gas, and food, and patience. It was hot, Texas hot. No bathrooms. Around 100 people died in this fruitless evacuation, fruitless because Rita turned away and ignored Houston.
So why didn’t everyone prepare for this? Actually most people did but even though massive flooding was expected, Houston is so very large that you simply cannot predict exact spots of flooding. Many spots now flooded have NEVER flooded, even in the recent hundred-year-floods. There has been so much rainfall that it simply overwhelms everything designed to move it away. And the rain continues…in fact, the flash flood warning has been extended to *Wednesday*. That is 3 more days of this because the remnants of Harvey are not going away anytime soon. Plus, as the rain falls on Houston it is still raining to the west of us and waterways there drain toward the Houston area, AND the storm continues to push Gulf waters toward land making it difficult for waters to drain into the Gulf.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? A perfect storm. Truly, a catastrophic event.

Can you even begin to imagine shutting down a city this size for days on end? Businesses closed. Schools closed. Cannot drive without running into roads closed by flooding. Airports closed as runways are under water. You see the pictures and videos and news reports and wonder, How? Why? You can plan as much as you can, but sometimes it’s simply not enough.

Instead, you just pitch in and help where you can, doing what you can. For some of us, it’s keeping others informed. For others, if you can get out, it’s rescuing some, feeding others, volunteering however you can. The news stations continue to show regular citizens helping others, bringing in boats to rescue those stuck in flooded homes. That is the Houston spirit we know and love. We are very thankful for all the emergency responders, many on their way from out of state but also for Houston firefighters, police, Coast Guard, National Guard and more.

We will survive. We will. We will be fine, just a bit soggy for a while. We are thankful that most of what has been lost is just “stuff” and VERY thankful that we are providing a welcome break from dismal news coverage of the hate and division in our country. Nothing like a good disaster to bring us all together.


Keith’s Note: I add this only to help readers understand the scale here: Houston proper has a population of ~2.3 million. Depending on how you draw the lines, “metro” Houston has somewhere between 4 million and 6 million souls

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