Tag Archive for: Hurricane Harvey

Another Tropical Wave Headed Toward Gulf

By this weekend, the second tropical wave in two weeks will make its way into the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is monitoring a disturbance in the southwestern Caribbean. They predict it will track northwest across Central America and the Yucatan. Then it should emerge into the Gulf of Mexico later this week.

It’s too early to tell the exact track, timing or degree of development. That depends on many factors such as steering currents and frontal boundaries. But as of 7am Houston time on 8/16/22, NHC gives the disturbance a 20% chance of developing into a named storm within 5 days.

NHC says an area of low pressure could form on Friday. Gradual development of this system is possible while it moves northwestward over the southwestern Gulf of Mexico through the weekend.

15:20 Zulu time is 10:20 Houston time. Note the cloud formation in lower left over Nicaragua and Honduras.

Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Lindner says conditions will become increasing favorable for tropical cyclone development in the Bay of Campeche (the area with the yellow circle). He points to a frontal boundary dropping south toward the Texas coast late this week and says areas south of that boundary will become increasingly favorable for a low pressure system to develop along the axis of the tropical wave.

Weather Service Storm Prediction Center 3-Day Outlook shows front moving across southern plains on Friday.

However, there’s no reason to panic now. Just watch the National Hurricane Center website closely over the next several days for any changes.

Almost exactly 5 years ago, a storm followed a similar track across the Yucatan. It eventually became known as Hurricane Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/16/2022

1813 Days since Hurricane Harvey

What Happened Downstream During Harvey as Lake Conroe Released 79,000 CFS

Last night, I posted some statistics about Lake Conroe levels after the SJRA started the release during Hurricane Harvey. Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, two top geologists, now retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies, have looked at the release from a downstream perspective. Last year, they put everything they learned into this 69-page presentation delivered to the University of Houston Honors Program.

From “A Brief History of Lake Houston and the Hurricane Harvey Flood,” by Tim Garfield and RD Kissling with help from Bob Rehak, 2019.

Recap of Key Points About Lake Conroe Release

To recap several key points:

  • The SJRA never did let Lake Conroe rise to its allowable flowage easement. The water level in Lake Conroe peaked at 7 a.m., August 28, 2017, at 206.23 feet. The SJRA’s flowage easement is 207 feet.
  • Outflow exceeded inflow by 8:30 a.m. on the 28th and stayed that way for the duration of the storm. As the lake level declined, the lake had up to 3 available feet of storage capacity.
  • Yet the SJRA kept releasing, on average, 2X – 10X more water than it was taking in. At one point, the ratio exceeded 100:1.

Tracking the Release Down West Fork

Garfield notes that the discharge ramp up that began the evening of the 27th reached a peak discharge rate of more than 79,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) just before noon on the 28th. The discharge rate didn’t dip below 70,000 cfs until 4 a.m. on the 29th – more than 16 hours later.

Following in lockstep with the Conroe release, flow rates at downstream gauges ramped up, in lockstep. By lining up the peaks of gages downriver, you can literally see the water surging down the West Fork all the way to Lake Houston. (See left side of image above.)

Significantly, Garfield says, these gauges all showed flattening flow-rate curves before the release ramp up. Those curves then turned and steepened upward as the Conroe release pulse arrived at those gauges.

Timing and Impact of Release in Lake Houston Area

Peak flow at the Humble gauge was reached shortly after noon on the 29th, roughly 24 hours after peak discharge was reached at the dam and roughly 30 hours after the high-rate release ramp up began.

Water started creeping under the doors of Kingwood Village Estates, a senior living center in Kingwood Town Center about 1.4 miles from the West Fork, at 3 a.m., on August 29th, 2017. It kept rising all morning and finally stopped another mile further inland. Water entered the last (highest) house to flood in Kings Point (the Kingwood subdivision closest to the main body of Lake Houston) at 2 p.m. that same day, according to Elise Whitney Bishop.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Kingwood Village Estates residents trying to escape as Harvey’s floodwaters rose. Twelve later died.

The level of upper Lake Houston, as measured at US59, rose an additional 7 feet during this period.

Significant additional flooding of Kingwood homes can be tied to this same period of increased discharge.

Flow rates measured at the Grand Parkway gauge and calculated at the Humble gage indicate a flow rate increase in this period of between 70,000 to 80,000 cfs, corresponding closely to the 79,000+ peak flow rate added by the Conroe dam discharge.

“The data from the affidavits further supports several key conclusions from the Harvey Flood Fundamentals section of our University of Houston talk,” said Garfield. Those include:

  • The large sustained release from Lake Conroe made West Fork flooding worse. The extra 80,000 cfs increased the West Fork flow 50%.
  • The release occurred as the storm was abating. It significantly increased flood damage in the Lake Houston area.
More than 4,400 structures flooded in Humble and Kingwood along the West Fork. Source: HCFCD.

The list of damages ran well over a billion dollars.

The SJRA Argument

The SJRA maintains to this day that Lake Conroe is a water-supply reservoir, not a flood-control reservoir. See the affidavits of Hector Olmos and Chuck Gilman. Olmos is a consultant who helped design the operations manual for the gates at Lake Conroe. Gilman is the SJRA’s Director of Flood Management, hired the year after Harvey.

They are basically claiming, “We don’t have the right tool to prevent downstream flooding.”

Editorial Opinion

Editorial opinion: That excuse has always sounded hollow to me. It attempts to curtail discussion of whether the SJRA waited too long to start releasing water, released too much at the peak, and then kept on releasing too much for days.

That discussion is a matter of public concern that could save lives and property in the future. We need to have it.

Sadly, it will take the courts to figure this out. In the meantime, the SJRA has hired some of the highest priced lawyers in the country and now appears to be angling for legislative immunity by hinting at higher water prices “statewide” if liability can’t be controlled.

It all smacks of similar arguments in other industries. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve heard them all before, such as car companies that would be driven out of business if forced to install seat belts and other safety features. Well, that prediction didn’t quite work out! Luckily, for General Motors, the addition of safety features helped fuel its resurgence.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/12/2020 with thanks to Tim Garfield and RD Kissling

1018 Days after 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.

Book Review: Houston After Harvey: Stories from Inside the Hurricane by Jacqueline Havelka and Jill Bullard Almaguer

Houston After Harvey: Stories from Inside the Hurricane is an encyclopedic, almost kaleidoscopic collection of interviews with flood victims about their Hurricane Harvey experiences. The new Amazon eBook by two Houston authors, Jacqueline Havelka and Jill Bullard Almaguer, has a “you are there” quality to it. The interviews fall into roughly three categories: before, during and after the storm. 

WhataBurger in Kingwood’s new HEB shopping center during flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Story of a Natural Disaster Told Through Victims’ Eyes

They recount the stories of people watching in terror as water crept inexorably toward their homes and businesses, praying it would not reach their front doors. They speak of the chaos of emergency evacuations, when people suddenly realized they had waited too long. And finally, they reveal the shock and sadness of returning to often uninsured homes and the struggle to repair them without the financial means to do so. 

Floods like Harvey affect every nook and cranny of the community and local economy. 

Entire Range of Human Emotions

Readers of this book will experience the entire range of the human emotions. Helplessness in the face of nature’s rage. Numbness in shelters. Kindness of strangers. Tears of loss. Rage at looters. Bewilderment when navigating the government bureaucracy. The struggle to return to normalcy. And more. Much more.

The book is not all seen through the eyes of flood victims. A narrative section for the statistically inclined puts Harvey in historical perspective. The storm dumped more rain on the continental US than any other storm in history. Including a whopping 4 feet on Houston, a metropolitan area of seven million people. 

One of the untold stories of Harvey, until now, is how Houston, a sprawling metropolis of diverse interests, came together in one of its darkest moments.

Half the community needed help. And the other half gave it.

Parts of this book will make you smile. Parts will make you cry. 

A Cautionary Tale for the World

If you read the book in one sitting, it feels like a time-lapse video, as if you’re reliving the whole Harvey experience in fast forward. It literally took me back to those terrible days in August and September of 2017.

You never forget an experience, such as Harvey. And you shouldn’t. Even if you want to. Harvey is a cautionary tale for the world about the need to prepare for flooding. Even if you think you live on high ground. Most of Harvey’s victims lived and worked outside of any recognized flood zone.

Recommended For…

I recommend this book to anyone who thinks s/he is immune to flooding. I also recommend it to Harvey victims who want to learn about others who shared their plight. 

Many flood victims may also want to give the book to friends and family in other parts of the country. It will help them understand what it was really like to go through a major flood. And more importantly, what it takes to come out whole on the other side. 

Ms. Havelka and Ms. Bullard have made a huge contribution to the understanding of America’s most common natural disaster – flooding.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/14/2020

989 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Note: I have known Jacque Havelka for many years and respect her contributions to the community. She is a talented writer/reporter. Even though I consulted with her when she was planning the book, I have no financial interest in it and will not profit from it.

Where the Water Came From During Harvey and Extent of Inundation

Tuesday, at the open house in Kingwood to review work to date on the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Plan, the Plan task force members showed two very interesting posters. Together, they show where the water came from during Harvey and the extent of inundation. They also show the amount of rainfall in different areas throughout the watershed.

When you put these two maps together, one high-level message screams through:

1.5 to 3.5 feet of rain fell over 2,885 square miles. That’s an area bigger than Delaware. And it all drained toward Lake Houston.

Watersheds Within River Basin

Looking at these posters gives you an appreciation for how complex flood forecasting can be, especially for areas like Kingwood where so many watersheds converge. The river basin map below shows the number of square miles drained by each of the major tributaries. The upper right corner inset map shows the same tributaries mapped over the major roads, counties and cities in the region to help you place the streams.

For a 3 foot by 3 foot high res PDF, click here.

Rainfall and Extent of Inundation

The second poster shows the extent of inundation along each of those major tributaries during Harvey. The upper right inset map shows rainfall across the region. Note how the rainfall was heavier toward the lower and eastern parts of the river basin. As water came downstream and the rain kept falling in those areas, the floodwater just kept building higher and higher.

For a 3 foot by 3 foot high res PDF, click here.

How Local Factors and Channel Hydraulics Come Into Play

The maps also reveal much about smaller areas within the watershed.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of Harris County Flood Control, has studied channel hydraulics for more than 20 years. He emphasized flooding in The Woodlands and Cypress did NOT flood because of water backing all the way up from Lake Houston. Lowering water in Lake Houston faster will not prevent flooding that far upstream, he says. A wide variety of local conditions govern upstream flooding, such as:

  • Rainfall rate, volume and location
  • Time of accumulation
  • Channel width/depth
  • Gradient
  • Flatness of terrain
  • Blockages
  • Rate and timing of runoff
  • Time of year
  • Amount of vegetation vs. impermeable cover
  • Soil type
  • Ground saturation and more.

This rainfall and inundation map clearly shows the effect of some of these factors. Notice, for instance, the three pockets of heavy flooding at the west end of Cypress Creek on the left. Also notice how the flooding narrows downstream toward the right. There are a several things going on here, according to Zeve.

  • The area that flooded so badly was extremely flat. The area used to contain rice paddies. Farmers made the land even flatter.
  • That area also received more rainfall. Note the small pocket of orange on the rainfall inset map over the area that flooded so badly on Cypress Creek.
  • As you move east on Cypress Creek, the flooded area gets less wide. That’s because the channel gradient increases. The creek therefore creates a deeper channel and the floodplain narrows.
Rice fields surrounded the headwaters of Cypress Creek in 1989.

As you look at these maps, apply your knowledge of local conditions to see if you can explain similar anomalies.

For Future Reference

These maps still exist in draft form. The river basin survey is only half complete. The maps may change before completion of the study.

For easy reference in the future, I will post the high-res PDFs under the Hurricane Harvey tab in the Reports page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/20/2019

843 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Deadline Approaching for Hurricane Harvey Tax Relief

In the weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Congress passed the Cruz-Cornyn-Rubio bill, which provided crucial tax relief for hurricane survivors. An important part of this bill eliminated the tax penalty for hurricane survivors who wanted to withdraw from retirement accounts to pay for the costs of repairs storm damages.

Such qualified retirement account withdrawals must be made by December 31, 2018 – a deadline that is quickly approaching.

If you are still in the process of rebuilding and recovering from the ravages of Harvey, contact your tax advisor for more information.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Residents of Kingwood Village Estates as Harvey’s floodwaters rose.

The IRS also provides information on this and other Harvey-related programs at this link.

Thousands of families in the Lake Houston area suffered hurricane-related damage during Harvey and could qualify. Hardly anyone finished Harvey-related repairs before this year. So check this out if you haven’t already. Remind your friends, neighbors and relatives. Every little bit helps. Only 22 tax-relief days left till New Years!

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 9, 2018

467 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Clarification from District E on Lake Level Adjustment

On March 27, 2018, Houston City Council Member Dave Martin’s office issued a press release about an adjustment to the level of Lake Houston that would reduce the likelihood of flooding. Today, March 28, 2018, this office released this clarification on how much the level would be lowered and for how long.

March 28, 2018
Contact: Jessica Beemer (832) 393-3008
Clarification: Temporary Reduction to the Level of Lake Houston
Houston, TX – To clarify a press release that went out yesterday regarding the reduction of Lake Houston, the level of the Lake is temporarily being reduced for seasonal rain events until the river, lake, and interior channels can be dredged. Harris County has approved the request for qualifications for engineering and environmental permitting to support the dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
Once the lake is lowered to 40 feet it is the City of Houston’s plan to adjust the spillway gates to maintain a level of 40 feet temporarily moving forward this rainy and hurricane season. The lake is currently releasing 7,600 cubic feet per second, and the elevation is 40.52 feet. No major changes in policy have been made. This temporary reduction addresses the immediate concerns of the Lake Houston Community, including Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, and Huffman.
This lower lake level will continue to be observed while the City works with area partners to address siltation and other coordination efforts with Lake Conroe. The City of Houston will continue to monitor and evaluate water demand, weather patterns and other mitigation activities.
In the event, the City of Houston has a need for additional water, the City has the ability through existing water rights to call water from Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston to meet high demand. For more information, please contact the District E office at (832) 393-3008 or via email at districte@houstontx.gov.
One day after the City started lowering the level of Lake Houston, this is what the West Fork looked like. Below is a photo taken in Kingwood Greens courtesy of Dianne Lansden looking toward the south shore of the river. The two foot reduction in lake level revealed just how much the capacity of the West Fork has been reduced by sand deposits.
Posted 211 days after Hurricane Harvey