Hurricane Harvey settling in as a most unusual and unwelcome guest.
In case you missed part 1:
For those of you not familiar with tropical weather, like hurricanes, let me give you a quick primer. These unwelcome guests tend to crash the party in a fairly predictable way., considerate creatures that they are. The weather typically comes in band after band of wind and rain, increasing in intensity as you get to the center of the storm, with a few tornadoes thrown in just to keep things interesting, rather like awful party games unwelcome guests insist you must play.
There are two sides to a hurricane, the ‘wet’ or the ‘dirty side’ (the one you DON’T want to be on), and the other side. The dirty side gets more rain and higher winds than the other side of the storm. According to NOAA, the right side of the storm is worse because hurricanes rotate counterclockwise, so the “strength of the storm on the dirty side is the hurricane’s wind speed plus its forward velocity.” [click her for full article] We were definitely on Harvey’s wrong side. Funsies.
Typically hurricanes will travel 10-20 mph over land. So once they hit, they continue along their merry way and move on to better digs usually within a day or so, leaving you to clean up from the party.
Except when they don’t.
That’s where things were predicted to get sticky. Those who knew said Harvey would waltz in and get stuck between two fronts that would stall it in place like a car stuck in traffic with nowhere to go. (Something Houstonians know a great deal about.) But, luckily for us, the winds would die down to tropical storm force by then, so just—JUST—the rains that would be our problem. That’s a little like saying your uninvited guest won’t knock over the furniture, he’ll just pour his drinks all over EVERYTHING. Oh, goody.
Thank heavens for small blessings. Seriously.
So, we started watching the rain gauges.
The rains started mid-afternoon on Friday. By midnight, the gauge nearest us said we’d already had 5 ½ inches.
Lesson 3: It’s not a good sign when the news anchor is wearing the same dress for 24 hours.
Road closures, high water and event cancellations topped the news Saturday morning. The weather channel, alternating with the local news became a permanent fixture on whatever tv was closest. I kept my cell phone in my pocket, with texts and calls flying back and forth between family members and friends we were keeping tabs on. I updated facebook as often as I could, knowing there is little worse than NOT knowing what is going on. But there wasn’t much to say: It’s raining, a lot, but so far, we’re safe.
The rain came in waves. Pounding, pouring rain that would back off and tease you into thinking maybe, just maybe, it would stop. After all, it was pushing twenty-four hours of driving rain. Certainly it had been long enough now. Surely the rain would stop. But no, the next band would come, teasing and unrelenting. The kind of rain where you can barely see the street in front of the house, dark and foreboding.
I used to like rain.
My poor dog alternated hiding under my desk and hiding under my husband’s. Poor thing hates thunderstorms.
By midnight, the rain gauges said we’d had thirteen and a smidge inches of rain. Not including yesterday. That was a foot of rain in a day. About eighteen inches since the storm started. I pulled out the ruler. On me, 18 inches hits in the middle of my knees. Just about 1/3 of the year’s rainfall in a matter of two days. Hard to wrap my head around.
Even harder, the poor news anchor who was still wearing the same red dress she’d worn the night before was reporting that we were in for AT LEAST another two days of this. After that, there was a fair chance that Harvey might well go back out to sea and return for a repeat performance. (Hurricane Alicia had done something similar in 1983.)
On that note, we did the only thing we could do at that point. We went to bed, phones screaming tornado warnings at regular intervals.
Lesson 4: It’s an even worse sign when one of the local stations stops broadcasting news because they’are under water.
Between the tornado warnings, it was difficult to sleep. All the hours of relentless rain had altered the sound from something that had once been relaxing and soothing, into one ominous and threatening. It was strange for rain not punctuated with howling winds to sound so menacing, but it did.
Sunday morning began with a flurry of early morning texts. Church service was canceled due to road flooding. The news reveals the same was happening all over the city as the stubborn, swirling masses of clouds pelted us with even more rain. Sometime near midday, Channel 11 news stopped broadcasting. Another channel picked up the news, showing images of the Channel 11 studio filling with rising water.
It’s a sobering, even frightening reminder of just how powerful nature is and how little it discriminates in its effects. The news office represented those who were on the forefront of the survival and rescue efforts, providing vital information—a place that was supposed to be secure from this sort of thing–an eerie omen of what was yet to come.
Shortly after that, we got a call from my dad. They’d lost power and he needed help with the generator. But he wanted to wait several hours to see if the power would come back. Could hubby and son come over around 7?
I got a little impatient at that point and told him absolutely not, it was too close to sun down and no one from my house was going to be out after dark.
What was he thinking? You can’t see water on the road clearly after dark, especially if streetlights are out, and it doesn’t take much to sweep a car off the road. Seriously, just six inches can stall out a car and twelve can float one. Many of the storm related deaths come from cars crossing water they shouldn’t have attempted. With several bayous to cross to get to his house, we weren’t going to take chances. Reluctantly, he agreed to accept help earlier in the day.
*headthump* *headthump* *headthump*
I paced the floor until everyone got back, damp, but safe. I probably should have been writing more book tour material at that time, but it was impossible to think over the sound of the rain anymore. I managed to feed them dinner and went back to watching the news.
The rain gauges were approaching another nine inches. Over twenty eight inches of rain now. For reference, that comes up to just below my hip joint. Over half a year’s rain in three days.
Rivers were racing past flood stage to record flood levels. Bayous were well out of their banks, flowing over roads and into neighborhoods. People were being warned not to retreat into their attics to avoid high water unless they had an axe or other tool that would allow them to break through the roof. (That’s how many people drowned in NOLA during Katrina.)
High water rescues were taking place all over the city as officials called for volunteers with boats to assist in the efforts. Volunteers from Louisiana, the Cajun Navy, were mobilizing and heading to Houston to assist in rescue effort.
And it wasn’t over yet.
We went to bed that night, with more screaming tornado warnings, and no idea that somewhere upstream game changing decisions were being made.