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Here’s what monster hurricanes Laura, Harvey have in common

Like Harvey, Laura rapidly intensified, leaving little time to prepare

Hurricane Harvey imagery spinning off the Texas coast. (2017)
Hurricane Harvey imagery spinning off the Texas coast. (2017) (National Hurricane Center)

Harvey is a name in weather history most Texans or anyone living in hurricane-prone areas won’t soon forget.

Three years ago, on Aug. 25, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall at 10 p.m. CST roughly 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

It made a beeline to Rockport and Fulton with 130-mph winds that destroyed buildings and brought catastrophic flooding.

[RELATED: Why does it seem hurricanes make landfall at night? | Here’s how COVID-19 is impacting weather forecasting]

Building damage from Hurricane Harvey in Refugio, Texas. (2017)
Building damage from Hurricane Harvey in Refugio, Texas. (2017) (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The monster hurricane spent days spinning along the coast, dropping historic amounts of rain on southeast Texas. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deemed Harvey the most significant tropical cyclone in scope and peak rainfall amounts since records began around the 1880s. More than 60 inches of rain were recorded.

Flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey. (2017)
Flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey. (2017) (National Weather Service)

Nine out of 19 Harris County rain gauges near Houston recorded all-time high flood stages, resulting in 30,000 water rescues being conducted in the days that followed.

Hurricane Harvey imagery spinning off the Texas coast. (2017)
Hurricane Harvey imagery spinning off the Texas coast. (2017) (National Hurricane Center)

There were so many “firsts” with Hurricane Harvey. Here are a few notable ones:

  • First major Category 3 or higher hurricane to make landfall since Wilma hit Florida in October 2005.
  • First major hurricane to make landfall along the middle Texas coast since Celia in 1970.
  • First Category 4 hurricane to make landfall along the Texas coast since Carla in 1961.

More than 150 tornado warnings were issued, with 50 confirmed touchdowns. Sixty-eight people died as a direct result from Hurricane Harvey, which was the largest number of direct deaths from a tropical cyclone in the state of Texas in almost 100 years. Roughly 13 million people were impacted by the storm.

Harvey is still listed as the second-most costly hurricane in U.S. history, with $131 billion in damages. That’s not far behind Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in $170 billion dollars in damages.

See the record holders in the table below.

The top five costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. This shows damages in billions of dollars in descending order.
The top five costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. This shows damages in billions of dollars in descending order. (WKMG)

There’s one very important trend among the top five costliest storms and it can also be seen in Hurricane Laura, which is impacting the Gulf Coast this week. It’s called rapid intensification. According to the NHC, rapid intensification takes place when there is an increase in the maximum sustained winds of a tropical cyclone of at least 30 knots, or 34 mph, in a 24-hour period of time.

Harvey rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane after reforming over the Bay of Campeche as a depression. Storms that rapidly intensify are some of the most dangerous. Why? Most often the preparations for the storm don’t meet the needs due to the rapid change in such a short period of time.

“It’s something I talk about all the time, worst case scenario when people ask me what that is” News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells said. “My greatest fear is we have a small storm that rapidly intensifies and drills into Central Florida and people haven’t taken the storm seriously with preps or evacuations and then there’s a ton of damage and people are hurt or lives even lost.”

Hurricane Laura rapidly intensified from having 75-mph winds to 140 mph. That’s an increase of 65 mph in just 24 hours. The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center anticipates Laura to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane early Thursday morning.

Visible satellite showing Hurricane Laura as a Category 4 hurricane inching closer to the TX/LA coast late Wednesday afternoon.
Visible satellite showing Hurricane Laura as a Category 4 hurricane inching closer to the TX/LA coast late Wednesday afternoon. (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

There’s still a lot to learn about rapid intensification in a complex atmosphere that’s difficult to measure when it changes so frequently. Hurricane hunters help with that. Read more about that here.


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