Texas – On August 25, 2017 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport Texas leaving behind $125 billion in damage and even worse, taking over 100 lives.
Harvey dumped over 60 inches of rain on the Lonestar state. According to NOAA, it set a record for the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event ever recorded in U.S. history. The data speaks for itself, but tracking the storm from a meteorologist’s perspective wasn’t just about the numbers.
A meteorologist’s point of view is a little different. Busy was an understatement during the storm, but we think about other things, too. I was working for KRGV Channel 5 News located in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost tip of Texas at the time. Harvey was the first major hurricane coverage of my career and one that I will never forget.
Harvey took a path from Africa on a west-northwest track impacting the Windward Islands as a tropical storm first. The storm weakened and the remnants moved toward the Yucatan Peninsula. From there it reformed and went under rapid intensification. In a short 40 hour time period Harvey had become a Category 4 hurricane as it moved from the Bay of Campeche into the western Gulf of Mexico.
Watching these changes in each report was amazing from a scientific perspective, but at the same time terrifying trying to keep in touch with my family to make sure they were prepared for the impacts that could soon move into our area.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Barry Goldsmith works for the National Weather Service Brownsville Texas office and also recalls Harvey as an unforgettable storm. Harvey’s closest point to the Rio Grande Valley was 90 miles due east of South Padre Island on Aug. 25.
“Misty rain added up to around an inch total on the beach, there were brief gusts of wind around 40 mph, and tidal run-up just into the dunes,” Goldsmith said. “I was standing 90 miles west of Harvey, but knowing the Texas Coastal Bend would later be slammed by a major hurricane a day later is a moment I will never forget.”
The impacts to Rio Grande Valley were minimal, we got lucky but tracking the storm didn’t stop. Coverage was non-stop. Rockport was only a three-hour drive north from the Valley.
Seeing the radar imagery and all the data with every NHC update and knowing the deadly potential this storm was bringing to our neighbors to the north was heart-breaking, to say the least.
There was a moment when a government official was on a local affiliate channel telling residents that refused to evacuate to write their social security number on their arms so that in the aftermath their bodies could be identified. I remember that gut-wrenching feeling hearing those words. It hit a little differently this time. It’s our job to warn people as much as possible. Your safety was our top priority and there was nothing more we could do to make people leave. All anyone could do at this point was watch, wait, and pray that those who chose to stay would be OK.
Harvey made landfall as a monster Category 4 hurricane. The images and video that flooded into our newsroom were intense. This storm didn’t just make landfall and fall apart, it kept churning for days over south Texas. Although its intensity weakened, the rain seemed never-ending.
Goldsmith recalls speaking to colleagues at the NWS Houston and Corpus Christi offices in the aftermath of the storm.
“NWS staff in the Houston office worked up to a week straight bunked at the office with limited sleep” recalls Goldsmith. “Through the record rainfall, immense flooding, and industrial incidents that dominated the region for several weeks after landfall the stories were similar; all in need of sleep and emotional rebalance, but there was some relief knowing their early notification saved many lives in an affected population of several million.”
On September 7, 2017 I began my trip home to Florida to start my new position here at WKMG. I saw the devastation as I drove through Rockport almost two weeks after Harvey made landfall.
Trees were either blown over or looked dead with no foliage on the limbs. Many businesses were boarded up and blue tarps were on roofs. It was a sad moment seeing what was once an active little city now with quiet streets filled with detours around areas still flooded taking you through one devastated neighborhood after another.
Goldsmith says knowing your risk and preparing accordingly is just the start.
“Do not prepare based on the category of wind alone and build resiliency all year long,” he said.
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