Weather Extremes

Aug. 29, 2017

08/26

I am writing this blog on the dirty side of hurricane Harvey listening to heavy rain and knowing we have several more days of this level of precipitation. This hurricane is wedged between two high pressure systems and will sit on us for days, dumping an enormous amount of rain to the Texas coast. More often, hurricanes blow through quickly rather than sit on a place for days. The slow movement means huge rainfall and this extreme rainfall will break many historic rainfall records. Watching the forecast, the forecaster mentioned that the weather service had to add a new color for rainfall amounts on their graphs, 40+ inches is predicted near where Harvey made landfall. “The amount of water in Houston was so unprecedented that the weather service on Wednesday had to update the color charts on its official rainfall maps to indicate the heavier totals.”

I’ve been through several hurricanes, I was 2 yrs old when the big one, Carla, came through in 1961. Every hurricane here is measured by that one. Although Ike’s status was reduced before it hit land fall, the satellite showed how huge it was and it was pushing a storm surge over the 17 ft seawall in Galveston while it was still 24 hours out. Ike’s size is an example of extreme weather. I live 75 miles inland and we were without electricity for two weeks after Ike.

Sandy, up north, was an example of an unusual and extreme hurricane weather event. Remember, warm ocean waters provide the energy that drives the formation and intensity of hurricanes. For there to be warm enough water so far north that late in the hurricane season is unusual. The storm surge went further inland than any other weather event and caused extensive damage.

It does seem to me, as a native of this area, that our summers are becoming increasingly humid and the weather forecasters have not been predicting rainfall amounts accurately. The past few years, there have been unpredicted floods and areas exceeding their 300 year flood levels. Due to global warming, there has been more ocean evaporation which puts more moisture in the air. Warm air can hold more moisture. I hypothesize the excess moisture has not been fully incorporated into the weather models used to predict our weather. And, warm ocean water feeds energy into hurricanes.

I could continue to discuss more unusual and extreme weather events occurring in recent years. The tornado that hit Moore Oklahoma in 2013 was rated above our tornado scale, topping EF-5. Schools, normally build to be shelters and withstand EF-5 tornado forces were destroyed. This is why the loss of life was so devastating. The May 31 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma tornado – responsible for killing 20 people - is now the widest tornado ever recorded in the United States at 2.6 miles (4.2 km) wide. The April 25th–28th 2011 tornado outbreak is the most extensive tornado outbreak in US history, 329 tornadoes were confirmed during this outbreak. It was an extremely large and violent outbreak, popularly known as the 2011 Super Outbreak.  During an extreme heat wave in the summer of 2012, there was a rare derecho wind event (a kind of straight line wind event with the wind strength of a tropical storm) that occurred across the northern United States. It was a historic event impacting 11 states along its 700 mile path. These were all record setting weather events and all occurring recently. Weather does seem to be trending towards increasingly extreme events.

So, extreme weather events predicted by climate change scientists back in the 1980’s are increasing. There are so many variables in these weather events it is difficult to pin down if climate change is a major factor. But when I look at the cumulative data trends holistically, extreme weather events are, maybe not increasing in frequency, but increasing in intensity, size and duration. There are consistent, measurable record-breaking events in recent years in: temperature, precipitation, duration of events, intensity of events etc. And these weather events are expensive to our nation, in lives and property, work and school time lost, efforts in clean-up and reconstruction instead of new construction.

There’s a break in the rain, I better go try to get my dogs in the yard before it starts raining hard again.   

If you want to explore extreme weather events for yourself check out this NOAA website: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events

08/28

Weather forecasters are calling this storm epic and we are only halfway through it. The pictures on Facebook are shocking. On the news coverage, I am watching boat rescues- the roads are now boat ways and crowded with boats. And amazing water levels at or near street lights in some areas. They say we have received over 9 trillion gallons of water, over 30 inches in some areas. It has literally rained all day- not a moment without precipitation in 18 hours. Looking at the radar, bands are stretching from 70 miles in the gulf past my town, 75 miles inland. The creek that is my back waterline is the highest I have ever seen it. It may reach its bank by morning, but my house will stay dry. 

 08/29

It is still raining, but not as hard. My yard is saturated and I sink in a few inches with every step. That training of water from the gulf has moved towards Louisiana as Harvey moves east. The predictions about where Harvey will go has changed moment to moment. It’s back over the ocean and we don’t know where it will turn north again. I hope it will be west of Houston so the rain will slow down. They opened the floodgates on Lake Conroe, so the creek on my back property line is flowing instead of rising- it is down at least 3 ft this morning from yesterday. Harris County is having to open other floodgates or risk losing levies and dams. That will drown out everyone below and more evacuations have been called. We’ve been watching the news- it’s all the local stations are showing. It’s rescues and road closures and heart tugging stories about folks saving elderly neighbors, pets and livestock. There just aren’t any words for the devastation down in Houston. I see the pictures and know exactly where many of them are taken- but water inundates every little piece of recognizable geography. I have to go to work tomorrow, I’m driving the truck and taking extra clothes in case I get stuck there- I’ll have to cross the Brazos River and I know it hasn’t crested yet.

 Update at 6PM: The sun is out. I've never been so excited to see sunlight. I'm feeling optimistic knowing the storm is almost over for us. Now the clean-up and rebuilding. But for now- the sky has cleared and THE SUN IS OUT!