Storm Poised to be 1st Major Hurricane to Make Landfall in U.S. Since 2005

Over the past 24 hours since my last blog post on Harvey, the storm has not only become the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season’s third hurricane, but it has become a strong Category Two system on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and could be on the cusp of being the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in almost 12 years, and the first such storm to come ashore in Texas in 18 years.

Feeding off the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and no longer feeling the effects of shear from an upper level low, Harvey’s now circular and symmetric structure has been able to flourish. Harvey, which dropped 16 millibars in just 8 hours as of 10:00 AM yesterday morning, has deepened even further with its minimum central pressure falling another 38 millibars to 947 millibars, or 27.97 inches of Hg.

As of the 10:00 AM CDT Advisory, maximum sustained winds with Harvey have increased to 110 miles per hour, which is just one mile per hour below the threshold for a Category Three, or major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Wind gusts are estimated to be as high as 125 miles per hour. Harvey is located some 115 miles to the Southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, or about 120 miles to the South-Southeast of Port O’Connor, Texas. Forward motion has slowed to the Northwest at about 10 miles per hour.

Hurricane force winds extend some 35 miles from the eye while tropical storm force winds reach out some 140 miles from the center of circulation. Harvey is expected to slow down even more, and linger around the Texas coast for at least several days. The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center does indicate that this storm is expected to dump anywhere from 15 to 25 inches along the middle to upper Texas coast with some isolated areas receiving up to 35 inches, or just under 3 feet of rain.

Another dangerous effect from this storm is storm surge. The majority of people who die in tropical storms and hurricanes, are from the effects of storm surge. Portions of the Texas coast from Padre Island to Sargent is expected to get a storm surge anywhere from 6 to 12 feet. Further along the coast from Sargent to Jamaica Beach and from Port Mansfield to Padre Island are expected to receive a storm surge from 5 to 8 feet. The NHC has numerous watches and warnings issued for the Texas and Northern Mexico.

One more thing to worry about, especially in Texas, is the possibility of tornadoes. Now most tornadoes spawned in hurricanes, especially in the dangerous and notorious right front or northeastern quadrant, are not the type of twisters that can occur during the peak of Severe Weather season, but they can be numerous. For example, in Hurricane Beulah, a Category Four Hurricane in 1967, there were 150 tornadoes spawned.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to High Island, Texas. A Storm Surge Watch is in effect from south of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. A Hurricane Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to Sargent, Texas. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from north of Sargent to High Island, Texas and south of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. A Hurricane Watch is in effect from south of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect from south of the mouth of the Rio Grande River to Boca de Catan, Mexico.

Looking at the latest infrared satellite imagery from the Western Gulf of Mexico, you can see the storm has grown in size somewhat, and more deeper reds, an indication of higher and colder cloud tops, have increased, and a pinhole eye feature has become more noticeable. The water vapor imagery clearly shows a very potent storm with good outflow and a well defined eye. The latest forecast track from the NHC has Hurricane Harvey coming ashore along the lower to middle Texas coast at about 1:00 AM CDT, or 2:00 AM EDT on Saturday as a major hurricane.

From that point, the forecast track is showing Harvey lingering along the Texas coast over the next several days, and moving as far north as Houston and Galveston as a tropical storm by early Wednesday morning. Looking at the models courtesy of Tropical Tidbits, the GFS is showing a track that takes Harvey inland over Texas on Saturday, and meanders it inland for a bit, and then treks it southward back along the coast before heading northward along the coast over the next five days.

The European model (ECMWF) has the storm tracking inland along the Texas coast, and meandering along the coast, and not going as far inland before going up the coast to the Houston area, and into Southwestern Louisiana within six days, and into Northwestern Louisiana by about a week’s time. The CMC, or Canadian model keeps Harvey to the south in Southern Texas, where it meanders inland for a few days before heading south and dissipating over the mountains of Northern Mexico. The HWRF model has a much different scenario.

The HWRF model has the storm moving inland over the low to middle Texas coast, and drift northward and weakening over the next several days, but then it has the storm moving back to the south over the waters of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, and then making a second landfall in the Sabine Pass area around Port McArthur, Texas within five days. Regardless of the track, residents in Eastern Texas from Brownsville to Houston to Port McArthur should expect a lot of rain over the next several days to possibly a week.

Harvey is forecast to become a Category Three Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale with 120 mile per hour winds over the next 12 hours, or just prior to landfall along the Texas Coast. If Harvey does reach major hurricane strength, and comes ashore that way, it becomes the first major storm to make landfall in the United States in almost 12 years. The last major hurricane to come ashore in the United States was Hurricane Wilma back in October 2005. Harvey would also be the first major hurricane to come ashore in Texas since Hurricane Bret in August 1998.

This is going to be the first significant test for the Trump Administration, which has really struggled to establish an agenda, maintain stability, and resist infighting amongst its staff and within the Republican Party. Memorable moments of poor presidential leadership have occurred during natural disasters. For example, the response by the George H.W. Bush administration to Hurricane Andrew after its landfall in South Florida in August 1992 contributed to that administration’s defeat to Bill Clinton in November that year.

Fast forward to August and early September 2005 and George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush, and his administration’s poor response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall along the Central Gulf coast and the devastation it caused to the New Orleans area, particularly the Lower Ninth Ward, and the Mississippi Gulf coast, where storm surge levels reached record levels for North America at over 28 feet. President Trump’s efforts in response to Hurricane Harvey will be closely watched and under a media microscope that has been merciless.