According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Harvey is expected to dump between 51 to 89 centimeters (20-35 inches) of rain on parts of Texas’ middle and upper coast. To compare, the normal annual precipitation in Houston is around 126 centimeters (50 inches), which means this hurricane could dump 71 percent of it over the next 24-36 hours.
The storm surge, however, is by far the worst threat here, as it almost always is when it comes to hurricanes. Created when the low atmospheric pressure allows the ocean to rise upwards, and encouraged further by the strong winds, Harvey’s will be around 3.7 meters (12 feet) high – and it’s almost certain to claim some lives. All in all, the NHC says that some areas will "be uninhabitable for weeks or months."
Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told BuzzFeed News that this storm surge will be like “having a tsunami arrive in the middle of a hurricane.”
As the storm continues to intensify, people are rushing to stores to purchase last-minute supplies before they hit the road; offshore oil platforms are being evacuated, and immigrants stuck in detention centers in the path of the hurricane are being moved.
Although it can’t be directly attributed to the phenomena, it’s more than likely climate change has exacerbated Hurricane Harvey. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico are up to 4°C (7.2°F) higher than normal, and warm oceanic water is where hurricanes draw their strength. At the same time, sea level rise along the southeastern US is rising up to six times faster than average thanks to human activity. Ultimately, this will make storm surges far worse than they should be.
Although this hurricane is largely a natural event, we’re making it needlessly more dangerous. Whatever Harvey brings to the shores of Texas, then, should be seen as not an anomaly, but a harbinger of times to come.