Tag Archive for: Harvey

Review: In Too Deep – Class and Mothering in a Flooded Community

Rachel Tolbert Kimbro, a professor of sociology at Rice, has produced the rarest of commodities: an easily readable book, rich with academic value. In Too Deep: Class and Mothering in a Flooded Community is the story of 36 upper middle-class mothers on Houston’s southwest side before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey. It’s about:

  • Why they chose the neighborhood they live in – despite knowledge of prior floods
  • Their struggle to survive during Harvey
  • The fight to recover after the storm – financially, physically and psychologically – while holding their families together
  • Why most chose to stay instead of move, despite repeated floods.

Common Themes

Professor Rachel Tolbert Kimbro, Rice University Photo.

Professor Kimbro interviewed the women extensively over the course of several years and found common themes between their stories. Among them: the struggle to protect their children, neighborhood, school, and friendships. The values they found in their neighborhood – affordability, diversity, walkability, a good school, safety, and a supportive network of neighbors – brought them together. And fear of losing those values after the flood kept them from moving elsewhere. Sound familiar? You could substitute “proximity to nature” for “proximity to museums” and understand why so many flood victims chose to stay in the Lake Houston Area after Harvey.

Qualitative Research Yields Insights

For In Too Deep, Kimbro used structured qualitative research, not quantitative. The result is a moving narrative, replete with insight and pathos. It mirrors, in a different part of Houston, many of the interviews I have done in the Lake Houston Area since Harvey.

Those who flooded will find painful memories and, ultimately, a sense of kinship that comes from a recognition of their shared struggles. Kimbro’s description of rescues by kayak; of several families crowding into one upstairs room with their pets; of struggles with contractors and adjusters; and of families sleeping on air mattresses for more than a year will bring many people to tears.

Policy makers will gain insights into what makes buyouts so difficult despite such difficulties. The book explains why many people in this neighborhood wanted to stay put after Harvey despite prior, severe flooding during the Tax and Memorial Day storms.

Kimbro’s editorial decision to focus only on women in one area and from one social class limits her research somewhat. But what it loses in breadth, it gains in depth. There is little academic research into how upper middle-class moms cope with disasters. Most research on flooding focuses on less affluent, communities of color.

Spoiler Alert

Professor Kimbro recreated the Harvey experience completely and faithfully from the standpoint of her interviewees. Women in the Lake Houston Area will likely identify with the struggles Kimbro’s subjects faced. Spoiler alert: keep a box of tissues handy when you read this book.

Kimbro changed women’s names and even the name of their neighborhood to protect their privacy and confidentiality. Many of the women felt almost violated from having neighbors and contractors traipse through the private spaces in their homes (bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.) to rip out wallboard, tile, and carpet. I just wish she had mentioned the fictitious neighborhood name in the introduction, not at the end.

Throughout the book, she refers to the neighborhood as “Bayou Oaks” and the school that the children go to as “Bayou Oaks Elementary.”

I wanted so much to photograph this neighborhood that I Googled the names to find their locations. I also tried to look them up in multiple map apps and Google Earth. No joy! There is no Bayou Oaks Elementary in the Houston ISD. And there is no Bayou Oaks where she described it.

As a consequence, at times I wondered how real In Too Deep was. But it is very real.

Suggestion for Future Research

One thing struck me as odd though. Unless I missed it on first reading, none of the women focused on political action (lobbying for flood mitigation) as a solution to their flood woes. None of these mothers turned into political activists lobbying for flood mitigation dollars – despite their fear of future floods.

In contrast, less affluent, predominantly minority communities seize headlines and more dollars every week. Why the difference? Is it financial desperation? Lack of alternatives? Or something cultural?

This is certainly an area for future investigation. And I hope Kimbro takes it up. She’s both a talented researcher and storyteller. We have a lot to learn from her.

In Too Deep comes in paperback, hardbound and digital editions. I purchased the Kindle edition from Amazon. I highly recommend it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2022

1669 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Extends Deadline for Harvey Homeowner Assistance Applications

The original deadline for Hurricane Harvey Homeowner Assistance applications has been extended from this Friday to New Year’s Eve at 5 P.M. Applications do not have to be completed by then, just started by then. So if you still hope to receive aid, move quickly. Money is running out and eligible applications will be prioritized based on who applied first.

The process involves a large number of documents and complex rules that govern eligibility. Here is the full text of this morning’s press release from the GLO. It includes information on where to apply.

What remained of a home washed downstream during Harvey. Photo by Dan Monks.

AUSTIN — The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has extended the deadline to submit applications for the Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) to 5 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021. All potential applicants must submit draft applications by the deadline to be considered for eligibility so long as funding is available.

We encourage the community to remember that applications do not need to be fully complete to be submitted. Once application intake concludes, additional program resources will be dedicated to processing applicants for eligibility, through the permitting process and into construction. Applications can be submitted even if documentation is missing as HAP applicant coordinators continue to help applicants who are missing documentation.

The HAP regional offices will remain open, and processing of applications will continue indefinitely until program funds are fully expended. Applications will be considered for award on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the priorities outlined in the Regional Housing Guidelines.

Submitting a complete application does not guarantee eligibility nor funding availability, but applicants must submit a complete application by the deadline to be potentially considered for assistance.

Those residing inside the Houston city limits should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston, while non-Houston residents of Harris County should apply at recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty. New applicants can also call the toll-free intake center line at 1-866-317-1998.

Harris County and the City of Houston received direct allocations of funding for residents in their jurisdictions. Applicants who previously applied to and are receiving assistance from Harris County and the City of Houston directly should continue to work with their program representatives.

In the City of Houston, applications being processed for eligibility already outnumber available funds, but funds remain available in non-Houston Harris County areas. HAP continues to take waitlist applications in Houston in case additional funding becomes available.

Waitlisted applications will be reviewed for eligibility in the order received based on their submission date, should additional funding be approved. Applications that are started, but not yet submitted by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2021, cannot be considered for assistance.

Thus far, in all 49 counties eligible for Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the GLO has approved nearly 6,900 applications for construction, with about 850 homes currently under construction and more than 4,000 completed with keys in the hands of homeowners.

The GLO continues processing completed applications with the expectation of rebuilding up to 10,000 homes total for those needing assistance with available funds, with approximately 3,000 of those homes expected to be rebuilt in Harris County and the City of Houston.

Individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey may qualify for assistance through the Homeowner Assistance Program if:

  • They owned their home
  • It was damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey
  • It was their primary residence at the time of the storm
  • Other eligibility factors also apply.

The program offers qualified homeowners assistance to repair, rehabilitate or rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. Potential applicants should review the Homeowner Assistance Program Checklist to have all applicable documents ready prior to applying.

Interested homeowners can visit recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston or recovery.texas.gov/hap/harriscounty to find more information.

– End of Release –

For More Information About Homeowner Assistance Applications

The GLO’s main Homeowner Assistance Program website – https://recovery.texas.gov/hap – also provides links to these important documents:

Applications, including all necessary documentation, must be completed and submitted BEFORE the GLO and its partners will begin processing it for eligibility. Each application submitted must be individually evaluated to determine eligibility. If applicants or potential applicants have questions, please contact 346-222-4686 or 1-866-317-1998 (toll free).

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2021 based on a Texas GLO press release.

1539 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Help Needed: Public Comment Period Swiftly Closing on $750 Million HUD Flood-Mitigation Grant for Harris County

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has announced that the public comment period for the first amendment to the state’s action plan for Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) will close in twelve days – on September 29, 2021. The GLO first posted the amendment to its $4.3 billion action plan on August 23rd.

Harris County essentially got shut out of the first round of grants last summer. This amendment would allocate $750 million to Harris County in the second round. That’s good as far as it goes, but Harris County needs more and the proposed amendment needs tweaks. Read more below.

Townhome destroyed by 240,000 cubic feet per second during Harvey.


Earlier this year, the GLO held a statewide competition for approximately $1.1 billion in Harvey flood mitigation funds. Harris County received none, despite being one of the most heavily populated and impacted counties in the state.

A public uproar ensued. GLO Commissioner George P. Bush then agreed to commit $750 million to Harris County for the second round of funding.

The amendment also obligates the county to define a method of distribution (MOD) for that money within US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules.

The “amendment” has been folded into the state’s action plan. The combined document totals a whopping 1134 pages – more than 100 megabytes. You can download the entire doc from the GLO site here. You can read the relevant seven pages (Section 5.4.5) here. Or read the discussion below.

Outline of MOD Rules

The amendment is based on a Method of Distribution (MOD) program. It makes the GLO the direct recipient of HUD funds and Harris County a sub-recipient.

Harris County must define the MOD plan to allocate funds to eligible entities within rules defined by HUD.

Eligible entities include:
  • Local governments (cities/towns)
  • Special purpose districts (MUDs/improvement districts/drainage districts, etc.)
  • Ports
  • River authorities

GLO encourages prioritization of projects that meet regional mitigation needs.

Harris County’s MOD plan must benefit at least 50% LMI (low-to-moderate income) residents.

Eligible activities include:
  • Flood control and drainage improvements
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Natural or green infrastructure
  • Communications infrastructure
  • Public facilities
  • Buyouts
  • Relocation assistance to outside of floodplains
  • Public service (housing, legal, job, mental health and general health counseling with a 15% cap)
  • Economic development
  • Elevation of critical structures
  • Planning (5% cap)
Ineligible activities include:
  • Emergency response services
  • Enlargement of a dam or levee
  • Assistance for privately owned utilities
  • Improvement of buildings used by government
  • Funding USACE projects in excess of $250,000
  • Projects involving use of eminent domain that benefit private parties

Have their own guidelines which are too complicated to summarize here.

  • The clock starts ticking 4 months after HUD’s approval of Amendment #1.
  • 50% of the grant must be expended by Jan. 12, 2027.
  • 100% must be expended by January 12, 2032.

Experts say all this time may be needed given the complexity of navigating HUD processes, which are lengthier than other sources.


Harris County and the Flood Control District support the amendment. It is certainly justified by the number of people in Harris County and the amount of damage inflicted by Harvey.

However, $750 million is not enough. A fairer amount would be closer to $1 billion. As the action plan points out, approximately one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey.

Alan Black, interim executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, points out several other reasons for increasing the allocation:

The City of Houston has still been left out. Flooding in Harris County has a dual nature. “You can address the rivers and channels,” he says, “but if water can’t get to the bayous, people will still flood when water ponds in neighborhoods. Both riverine and street flooding must be addressed together.”

Black also points out that administrative fees are capped at 6%, but with HUD compliance costs, 8% is more realistic. Moreover, those administrative costs must come out of the $750 million – they are not on top of it. So the real amount of money available for flood mitigation would be reduced to about $690 million.

Finally, the Amendment also allocates approximately $450 million to Houston/Galveston Area Council, much of which would go back into the City of Houston. Black points out that flood mitigation is the Flood Control District’s core competency and that HCFCD can construct projects much faster and more efficiently than HGAC.

An estimated one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Sally Geis before her rescue.

With the trust fund recently created by Commissioner’s Court, plus $750 million, Black feels confident every project listed under the flood bond could be constructed.

But he worries about inflation of construction costs (which he is already seeing) and the admin costs.

Black intends to build projects as quickly as he can. If there’s a project in an LMI neighborhood that’s shovel ready, he will build it with bond money and not wait for HUD funding which could add years of delays.

That said, there are many projects that are not shovel ready that could benefit from this money. In fact, the need is greater than available funding, says Black.

Make Your Feelings Known

Please consider these points and take time to submit a public comment. Email is probably the easiest way. It doesn’t require you to wait through a meeting for your turn to speak, and doesn’t limit you to a certain amount of time.

Photo by Camille Pagel. Her children are helping to gut the kitchen instead of going to school after the Harvey flood.

How to Register Your Opinion

You can register your opinion in any one of five ways.

All public comments submitted by 5 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2021, will be considered. The method of submittal does not matter. Per federal requirements, the GLO will respond to public comments before the amendment is sent to HUD for final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/17/2021

1480 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Day of Terror Relived: Sally Geis’ Harvey Evacuation Story

In August 2017, Sally Geis and her husband JG watched as Harvey’s floodwaters crept over the San Jacinto West Fork river bank. They thought they would be safe. But soon rising water turned to raging water. As they moved upstairs, they took a hatchet. JG said it was to kill snakes that got in the house. But Sally wondered if it was to chop a hole in their roof in case they needed an escape hatch.

I’ve known Sally and JG for almost three years. They first contacted me in regard to development practices in floodplains and floodways. But it wasn’t until today, that Sally sent me pictures from Harvey showing her harrowing escape. Rick Alspaugh’s comment about PTSD in yesterday’s post caused her to review her pictures from Harvey and share them. Like Rick, she has a hard time overcoming the memories of what for some neighbors turned into a fatal experience.

Photographing the River’s Rise During Four Days

Sally’s rediscovered cache of photos creates a valuable addition to our understanding of how Harvey’s floodwaters rose and spread in the Kingwood area.

Before Waters Rose
West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge over West Fork San Jacinto before the flood. August 25th, 2017, 11:09 a.m.
Waters Begin to Rise
August 27th, 2017 at 7:17 a.m. Note how much closer the level of the water is to the bridge and how part of the boat dock is under water.
River Fully Out of its Banks
August 28, 2017 at 10:44 p.m. Boat dock is completely under water. Street signs visible in earlier photos are almost completely submerged.

Serious Trouble

August 29, 2017 at 8:35 a.m. Street signs are under water but top parts of light poles are still visible. Note bridge on far right. Water almost touches bridge in center. But at far end on Atascocita side, the road bed is tangent with the river. All surface features in foreground are submerged.

River Rescue

Soon a boat was the only way out…a boat which snatched them from the second story of their home.

Said Sally, “The current was very fierce — he really knew what he was doing!! We could touch the tree tops and the street name signs overhead!”

Geis rescue during Harvey. Two men from Paris, TX drove 6 hours with their boat to help. Sally said they had to rev their engine up to full speed to fight the cross current. Notice the churning waves among the trees in the background as they make their way north on West Lake Houston Parkway to the drop off point. August 29, 2017 at 6:55 P.M.

The picture above was taken north of Kingwood Drive almost two miles from the main channel of the West Fork. Yet look at that turbulence in the water. Normally, a point this far from a river would be designated as “floodplain storage.” Normally, that would mean placid waters, the opposite of what you see.

Eventually, the rescue boat dropped Sally and JG off at Wendy’s on West Lake Houston Parkway at Rustic Woods, several blocks north of where the photo above was taken. From there to the water’s edge on the south side of the West Fork is approximately 2 miles…wider than the widest part of Lake Houston itself – just upstream from the spillway – during normal times.

Eventually the river became wider than Lake Houston normally is.

From Wendy’s, a car ferried Sally and JG to a volunteer’s home where they slept the next night.

Day After Explorations

The following day, they explored the area on foot, still in shock, surveying all the damage. Water remained high in many places. Rescue operations continued.

At Woodland Hills and Tangle Lake, rescue efforts continued. August 30, 11:26 AM.
Shady Run at Kingwood Drive. Water normally flows from left to right here. But note how the trees appear to have been pushed from right to left. August 30, 2017 at noon.
At the same intersection, water reached halfway up street signs. August 30, 2017, 12:07 PM

Revisiting the Escape Route Days Later

“We went OVER this bridge in the boat!!” said Sally Geis.

West Lake Houston Bridge over Bens Branch after water receded. Photo taken 9/1/2017. Geis says her rescue boat went OVER, NOT UNDER THESE BRIDGES.

According to Geis, on the way out, rescue-boat propellers kept striking submerged cars, nearly capsizing boats on more than one occasion.

Photo taken 9/1/2017 after water receded. Car destroyed by propeller of rescue boat was totally submerged when struck. Side window was likely blown out by water pressure.

“A lot of boats were hitting submerged signs, cars, heavy things — they had no idea what was underwater. One boat hit a car, began to sink and nearly capsized. Thankfully it didn’t. A lady onboard could not swim. The water was over our heads and the current was scary and swift, plus contaminated. I heard there were 500 rescue boats in all — including the Cajun Navy, helicopters, jet skis,” said Geis.

After Shocks

Sally and JG lost their vehicles in the flood. And like so many others, they lost all the belongings on the lower floor of their home. Here is a short video of a scene they filmed on a walkabout after Harvey’s floodwater’s receded.

Video of Harvey Debris in Kingwood, TX by Sally Geis. Shot September 3, 2017, at 5:29 PM.

Sally’s brother later picked the couple up when the water receded and took them to a friend’s home. The friend was on vacation, so they got to rest up for five days before facing the destruction.

Says Sally, “Those images of every street lined with trash – of complete households hauled to the curb – for months on end added to the depression and PTSD.”

Geis and her husband spent the next two years restoring their home.

After fighting developers who wanted to build in the floodway of the West Fork, they finally sold their home earlier this year. They now live in a high rise downtown.

Sally says, “People who have never been through an experience like this have no idea how real the PTSD can be. It can take over your life.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 16, 2021, based on the photos and memories of Sally Geis

1479 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The Long Road to Recovery: Rick Alspaugh’s Harvey Story

Four years after Harvey, the storm’s effects are still visible at Alspaugh’s Hardware Store in Kingwood’s Town Center. To this day, Rick Alspaugh struggles to balance inventory with service, the thing that made his business formula unique. This is the story of how Harvey affected him, his business, his customers and 60 employees.

Bob: Your family’s first hardware store in Kingwood was up near the front. When did you move to Town Center?

Rick: We bought our property from Friendswood in 1993 and opened our store in ‘94.

Rick Alspaugh (center), wife KellyAnnette (right) and manager Dallas Behman (left)

27 Years of Success Based on Unique Formula

Bob: You’ve been there 27 years! Did the entry of Lowe’s into the market affect your business?

Rick: Not really. They don’t do what we do.

Bob: How would you characterize that?

Rick: They have great inventories. But we have people who can walk you through a project. We were the go-to place for service. People don’t come here for lumber, tile, sinks and carpet. They come for parts, paint, smaller things. And we have this amazing boutique with unique things that nobody else carries. With goods at all price levels. Plus free gift-wrapping. You can’t get that anywhere else in the city. 

Back before Harvey, we also had a huge selection of barbecue equipment. We’re struggling right now, but God’s going to get us through it. 

Bob: Let’s go back to Hurricane Harvey. 

3.5 Feet of Water in 16,000 SF Store, But No Flood Insurance

Rick: August 28th 2017. I’ll never forget it. Everything went underwater. Deep under water – three and a half feet.

Alspaugh’s during Harvey

We lost twenty-seven computers. They were all on desktops, but that wasn’t high enough.

The height of Harvey’s floodwaters meant Alspaugh lost 27 computers sitting on desktops – all but one in the paint department.

Bob: Were you insured for that?

Rick: Not a bit.

Bob: (shocked) You didn’t have flood insurance?!

Rick: About a month before Harvey, my insurance agent came in. We talked about how we had grown and increased my coverage. Then Harvey hit. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

60 Employees Help Jumpstart Business

Rick: At the time, I had about 60 employees. The day after Harvey, everyone showed up and started cleaning. It was amazing, Bob. They rebuilt the store. It was unreal. It was just… We came together!

Within three days, we were able to open by working out of trailers and a cargo container outside with one surviving computer from the paint department. We ran wires out there. And we re-opened out of that container.

I ordered about $400,000 worth of stuff that people would need for cleanup.

“I Just Assumed I Had Flood Insurance”

Rick: In the flood, we also lost three trucks. A generator. And our forklifts. I used up all my cash reserves to get going again and keep people working. So, I called my agent to make some insurance claims and he says, “For what?” 

“We flooded in Harvey! This was a total loss,” I said.

Alspaugh tossed his entire inventory, fearing contamination from a sewage treatment plant just upstream.

He goes, “You’re not covered for rising water. You don’t have flood insurance.”

My agent never once asked me if I wanted flood insurance. And I never asked if I had it. I just…assumed. I assumed I had it. 

Luckily, the three trucks were covered under our automotive policy. So, I got money for them. But it was not enough to replace them.

Bob: How long did it take to reopen? 

Doing Business Outside While Rebuilding Inside

Rick: By September 1st, we were selling outside. But for all of September and October, and most of November, we were rebuilding the inside.

At lunch, our barbecue vendor came in to cook for us. We would pressure wash the tables, turn a bunch of buckets upside down, sit, pray, and eat. That really brought us together. 

Before the store was even cleaned out, I targeted reopening inside for the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Everyone just looked at me with giant eyes. But by God, we got to work. And we made it happen. 

Bob: Were there any setbacks? 

Rick: We received three 18 wheelers of shelving…in the wrong order. We needed uprights first. But they came on the last truck…a week late. So, we literally lost a week of assembly. But we were back in the store by Monday before Thanksgiving.

Bob: Wow.

Rick: In about eight weeks, we completely redid the store. But that was eight hours a day for 60 people.

Starting over from the ground up

$3.2 Million in Flood Losses

Bob: How much did you lose in Harvey?

Rick: $3.2 million dollars. We lost the entire inventory. We trashed it all because I was concerned about contamination. It was nasty. We’re less than a quarter of a mile downriver from Kingwood’s main sewage treatment plant. We just had to trash everything.

Store interior after floodwater receded. Note water line on standing cardboard cartons.

But when we reopened, everything was 100 percent clean. Brand new. We threw out everything touched by Harvey. Four trailer loads of barbecue pits were crushed and hauled straight to the scrap yard. 

Even the barbecues, his signature product line, went to the dump.

Bob: I had no idea. Did any of the newspapers write that story?

Rick: No. I never felt I was special to where I needed to talk about it. All the people around me suffered similar losses. The jewelry store. The photofinisher. The barbershop. The cupcake guy. Everybody in Town Center lost everything. 

Bob: Did you ever think the water would get this high?

Rick: I knew it could reach Town Center because of the 1994 flood. So, during Harvey, we tried to raise everything up about a foot. But I never thought three and a half feet!

If you had three and a half feet of snow, it would melt by next week and it would be business as usual. But when you have three and a half feet of water in your store…well, here I am talking about the recovery four years later.

Plagued by PTSD

Bob: How has this affected you personally?

Rick: People don’t realize how real PTSD is. I have my eye on the Weather Channel all the time now.

Bob: Do you have flood insurance now?

Rick: Yes, sir. And I’ve got a different insurance agent, too.

Business Since Harvey

Bob: So, you lost $3.2 million worth of inventory and computers. You had to start over. Without help from insurance. How has Harvey affected your business since then?

Rick: Harvey not only destroyed our store, it wiped out 3000 homes within a nine-iron shot of here. This entire neighborhood…gone. Customers didn’t need most of what I had at that point. They needed major remodel stuff: carpet, tile, wallboard, like that. They needed contractors, not light switches. Plus, they didn’t have flood insurance and had to bear the cost of recovery out of pocket. 

We have problems. But not like most people. We’re not on the way to M.D. Anderson. Having burned through my own savings, I just don’t have enough money to offer the kind of service people came to expect.

Government Grants Slow in Coming

Bob: What comes next?

Rick: We’re poised to recover. I just need inventory. We filed for some Harvey help.

I got some tax relief, which was very nice. An SBA loan which we’re paying back. The Humble Chamber helped us, which was a huge blessing. 

Congress appropriated $100 million to small businesses for Harvey grants. But they take forever. Worse, they had $250 million worth of need.

Luckily, friends in the community stepped up to help fill that gap. That’s why we are here today. I’m not begging friends anymore. I’m just not. But I would like to get some of this Harvey aid. I certainly qualify.

Banking on Community Spirit

Bob: So where do you go from here?

Rick: We’re here every day. The lights are on. And we still have stuff to sell. Just not as much as we used to.

Bob: You know, I can’t imagine cooking barbeque without your store.

Rick: Thank you.

Bob: I see Alspaugh’s as a central location for community spirit.

Rick: It used to be. And it can be again. There’s not a whole lot that we can’t do as a community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 15, 2021 based on an interview with Rick Alspaugh

1478 Days since Hurricane Harvey

‘Wind Fingerprints’: Scientists Dissect What Accounts for the Destructiveness of Different Storms

Last week, a story about ‘wind fingerprints’ in The Washington Post caught my eye. It purported to show the difference between Ida and Katrina. The story by Bonnie Berkowitz and Laris Karklis starts with this teaser: “Ida hit Louisiana with faster winds than Katrina, but a hurricane’s category number is just part of what makes each storm unique — and uniquely destructive.” I was hooked.

Factors in Fingerprinting Storms

“Ida struck Louisiana on Aug. 29 as a strong Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum winds of about 150 mph — much higher than the maximum winds of 125 mph from Katrina, a Category 3,” say the authors.

However, the wind speed is just part of the picture. To get the big picture, one must also consider:

  • Breadth of the wind field
  • Wind direction
  • Total energy contained in the storm
  • Forward motion
  • Angle at which it struck the coastline
  • Track
  • Proximity to population centers
  • And more.

The story quotes Michael Kozar, a meteorologist who models storms for risk-analysis company RMS. Says Kozar, each wind field is like a fingerprint.

“Each wind fingerprint is unique to the storm, and it is why each storm produces a unique amount of loss and has unique impacts.”

Michael Kozar, RMS

Examples of Wind Fingerprint Differences

“A very large storm with moderate winds may contain more integrated kinetic energy than an intense but small storm, and it may create havoc for people on land in a different way,” says the story.

The story goes into great detail comparing Ida to Katrina. Ida packed higher winds (150 vs. 125 mph peaks). But Katrina packed more energy – 116 terajoules vs. 47 for Ida. By comparison, Superstorm Sandy in 2012 had an estimated 330 terajoules of energy.

A terajoule is so large, it’s hard to find an analogy that puts it in perspective for most people. But scientists estimate that the atomic bomb over Hiroshima released about 63 terajoules of energy – slightly more than Ida, but a little less than half of Katrina.

RMS estimates the smaller punch of Ida was due in part to the shorter time it was able to gather steam, so to speak, over open water. Ida gained full strength just hours before landfall. But Katrina churned over the open Gulf for three days before slamming into Louisiana. It grew much larger, in fact, about twice as large.

Relative size of wind fields estimated by risk-analysis firm RMS. Katrina more than doubled Ida’s diameter.

RMS also explained how Katrina came in east of Lake Pontchartrain, while Ida came in to the west. With the counter-clockwise rotation of low pressure systems in the northern hemisphere, that meant Katrina pushed water toward New Orleans and Ida pushed water away.

The forward speed of a storm can make a huge difference in the types of damage it causes compared to its rotational speed. Category 4 Harvey, for instance, stalled over Houston for days, dropping torrential rains. But Category 5 Hurricane Andrew ripped through south Florida in hours. Harvey flooded homes. Andrew tore them apart.

This article gives you both insights and food for thought that can help you prepare better for the next storm. It’s highly recommended reading.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/7/2021 based on a story by Bonnie Berkowitz and Laris Karklis in The Washington Post and data from RMS

1470 Days since Hurricane Harvey

So Far, 99L Headed Toward Gulf Along Same Track as Harvey

Jeff Lindner, Harris County’s meteorologist, forecasts a potential hurricane threat for the western and northwestern Gulf of Mexico early next week. And it’s following the same track as Harvey – almost four years later to the day.

Current Location of 99L in South-Central Caribbean

A tropical wave currently designated 99L and moving westward in the Caribbean off the coast of Columbia still has no center of circulation. However, global models indicate that it will continue to develop over the western Caribbean Sea either Friday or Saturday and move into the south-central Gulf of Mexico over the weekend.

Area of Investigation 99L is that large blob between the eastern tip of Cuba and the northern coast of Colombia.
99L on left should reach the southern Gulf by this weekend.

Still a Wide Range of Potential Tracks for 99L

There has been a significant shift during the last 24 hours to the right (east). The majority of the models now show 99L heading in the direction of the northwest Gulf of Mexico. However, models also show a wide range of potential tracks from northern Mexico to the Mississippi coast. 

The black line is the most likely track but uncertainty remains high.

So, a fair amount of uncertainty exists in the forecast, especially since there is such spread in the ensemble guidance. The lack of a defined surface center at the moment increases that uncertainty. 

Hurricane Harvey’s track in 2017. Note the similarity in area of origin and projected paths. Also note where Harvey intensified.

This weekend will be the fourth anniversary of Harvey. It’s eerie to note the similarities between that storm and this one.

Intensification Very Likely

Conditions over the Gulf of Mexico appear to be favorable for intensification. 

Nearly all global models see 99L turning into a hurricane. Some see it turning into an intense hurricane in the Gulf by early next week.

Lindner warns that It is too early to start discussing impacts because of the uncertainty on the track. However, he does see increasing tides and 10-15 foot waves from Sunday into Monday. Rain chances will increase starting today and remain high into the weekend. 

“Obviously,” says Lindner, “the forecast and potential impacts will have significant changes as the track become more clear in the coming days.”

Residents and interest along the TX and LA coast should review hurricane plans and make sure hurricane supplies are fully stocked. Monitor forecasts closely and frequently.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/25/2021 based on information from HCFCD, NOAA, NHC and Tropical Tidbits

1457 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Reminder: Floodgate Meeting at Kingwood Community Center on Thursday, July 8

On Thursday, July 8, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin will host a pubic meeting to discuss the status of adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. Preliminary engineering finished earlier this year. In March, the Coastal Water Authority board approved Black & Veatch to begin final engineering.

Need for More Gates

The Lake Houston Area Task Force identified more and higher capacity floodgates as a key element in the area’s flood-mitigation strategy. The current gates have one-fifteenth the capacity of those at the Lake Conroe Dam. That makes it difficult to shed water from Lake Houston before people flood if Lake Conroe opens its gates as it did during Harvey.

During Harvey, Conroe released 79,000 cubic feet per second. That was one third of all the water coming down the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood. All by itself, that 79,000 CFS would have been the ninth largest flood in West Fork history. And that made the difference between flooding and not flooding for thousands of homes and businesses near the lake.

During Harvey, the peak flow over the spillway was five times the average flow over Niagra Falls. A wall of water 11 feet tall cascaded over the spillway above. Enough to fill NRG stadium in 3.5 minutes.

Lake Houston Dam During Harvey. The proposed crest gates would go in the far upper left of the spillway.

Floodgate Meeting Details

See the meeting details below.

Thursday, July 8, 2021
At the Kingwood Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods)
Doors Open 5:30 PM
Dredging Update Starts 5:45 PM
Gate Update Starts at 6 PM

Chief Recovery Officer, Stephen Costello, will provide a very brief update on Lake Houston Dredging operations at 5:45 p.m. before the Spillway Improvement Project program begins.

The program to discuss the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project will start at 6:00 p.m. and conclude at 7:45 p.m. But don’t worry about sitting through a 2 hour meeting.

The main presentation by Black & Veatch, the project engineers, will be followed by a short Q&A session. The meeting will then transition into breakout sessions. Breakout tables will let residents engage with project management staff and engineers in small groups to ask more detailed questions.

Project Benefits

The Lake Houston Dam Spillway project will increase the outflow capacity of the Lake Houston Dam. The project proposes installing new crest gates in the existing uncontrolled spillway. This will allow for a rapid decrease of water levels in Lake Houston in advance of storm events to prevent or reduce upstream flooding. Engineers estimate the recommended alternative could help about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures. It’s important for people to understand that if they flooded from streams or channels far from the lake during Harvey, this may not help them.


A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides $4.3 million for engineering and positions the city to receive another $42.7 million for construction.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/2021 based on info provided by Dave Martin’s Office

1407 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Winter Storm’s Death Toll Rises Sharply Higher than Harvey’s

Shortly after the winter storm in February that caused statewide power outages, officials estimated the death toll near 60. In the last month, that figure has risen to 111 – nearly double the previous estimate and 43 higher than Hurricane Harvey which killed 68.

The February 2021 Winter Storm claimed 43 more lives in Texas than Hurricane Harvey.

Not Just Hypothermia

The New York Times reported Representative Joaquin Castro, an Austin Democrat, as saying, “It’s worse than anyone could have imagined.

“Douglas Loveday, a spokesman with the state health department, said that it had taken investigators weeks to link the additional deaths to the cold weather and the accompanying storm,” said the Times.

State officials said that while most winter storm victims died from hypothermia, other died from:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Medical equipment failures
  • Chronic illnesses that were suddenly worsened
  • Lack of home oxygen
  • Falls
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Fire.

Search for Solutions

As the death toll has climbed from the winter storm, the search for causes of the grid failure continues. The Times article continued, “The storm disrupted the power infrastructure, which, officials said, was unprepared for such intense winter conditions.”

The big questions:

  • “Why were we unprepared?”
  • “Who’s at fault?”
  • “How can we prevent a recurrence?”

Officials have called for an overhaul of the state’s power system. But aside from some symbolic firings of ERCOT board members, no one to date has made hard decisions about becoming part of a larger grid or winterizing equipment that failed. Some may be difficult to winterize given current technology.

Texas Power Sources

According to ERCOT, Texas gets its power from five sources: solar (2%), nuclear (11%), coal (18%), wind (23%), and natural gas (46%).

Percent of Texas Power supplied by Solar, Nuclear, Coal, Wind and Natural Gas. Source: ERCOT.

Ice, for instance, can form on wind turbine blades, severely impairing efficiency. This article in ScienceDirect describes the problem. “Ice accretion on the blades of a wind turbine can lead to turbine shutdown, power loss and damage to turbine components. To prevent ice formation on wind turbine blades, an ice sensor integrated with an ice mitigation system is required. The ice sensor can be used with a de-icer on the blade surface. However, the current ice sensing and de-icing technologies are inefficient and integrated systems need appreciable improvement.”

It ain’t easy being green.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/26/2021

1305 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Disaster Creep: How Bad Decisions Can Turn Extreme Events Into Bigger Catastrophes

Disasters may seem sudden. But their seeds can be sown decades before the actual event. How? A series of seemingly inconsequential individual decisions can collectively have massive unexpected negative consequences after an extreme event at a later date. No one decision by itself “causes” the catastrophe, but collectively they lay the groundwork to magnify damages. I have adopted the term “Disaster Creep” to explain what happens when:

  • Individual decisions gradually erode margins of safety over a period of years.
  • Then, an extreme, precipitating event pushes defenses past the point of failure.

We saw it:

Both disasters followed similar patterns. Each upfront decision benefitted some people in some ways, but gradually eroded margins of public safety. Then, in both cases, unanticipated weather events threw the state into chaos it could not handle.

US59 during Harvey. Photo by Melinda Ray.

Before Floods

Some, but certainly not all developers:

Even some governments are complicit. They:

Not only is the last point a dangerous policy in and of itself, it encouraged urban sprawl. In concert with lax enforcement of regulations, the sprawl destroyed more wetlands, forests, and riparian vegetation that buffered us from flooding.

Individual residents bore part of the blame, too, for not:

  • Learning about the factors that contribute to flood risk, then…
  • Buying homes in safe places, with good drainage, thus encouraging developers to discontinue bad practices.
  • Purchasing flood insurance.
  • Holding government accountable.
  • Monitoring upstream developments that cut corners on drainage.

Then came the big rains and predictable results. An extreme event touched off a man-made disaster years in the making. Had we not let margins of safety erode, far fewer homes and businesses would have flooded.

Before Texas Power-Grid Failure

We can trace similar decisions, each of which appeared innocent (or even beneficial in some ways) – until a massive winter storm touched off a chain reaction that cost dozens of lives and billions in property damage.

To name just a few contributing factors to the power failure, we:

  • Created a grid that was largely (but not wholly) isolated from surrounding states that might have helped provide power.
  • Deregulated power generation without ensuring adequate standby peak-generating capacity.
  • Constructed wind-power without winterizing turbines.
  • Failed to anticipate the freezing of natural gas wellheads and pipelines.
  • Let the free market create complex wholesale plans that cut pricing to the bone, thereby discouraging investment in additional capacity.
  • Exposed consumers to unimaginable financial risk.
  • Created a market where producers could profit handsomely from shortages.
  • Ignored FERC recommendations to winterize power plants more than a decade ago.

Surprise, surprise. Then, when the temperature plunged below freezing, a quarter of Texas lost power. Half the state had to boil water. Dozens of people died. And repairs will cost billions.

A natural disaster? Certainly not. States in far colder climates enjoyed continuous power throughout the event. So this was preventable.

Why Do We Let Disaster Creep Happen Repeatedly?

We want to believe that government will establish rules that keep us safe and that level the playing field for competitors. But is anyone really watching? Who really reads or understands all those regulations and reports anyway?

We look at the engineers’ stamps and assume compliance.

Who really investigates the county or city engineer’s department before buying a home to ensure they enforce their own regulations? No one!

Who really understands how ERCOT is put together and what all of its vulnerabilities are?

We assume government oversight that in many cases simply does not exist.

How many people:

Very few, I bet. Kind of makes you wonder where the next big vulnerability is. Public health? No. Wait. That was 2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/25/2021

1276 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.