LOCAL VIEW —A Sneaky Storm—

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The above map shows a low developing off the east coast of the United States, but what it doesn’t show is what clobbered us. Namely, tropical storm Phillippe.

Phillippe existed on the map produced before this one, but the fellows at the weather bureau decided it no longer fit their standards. It was downgraded to the low to the south of the three lows gathered around Cape Hatteras.  Those three lows are undergoing the usual “bombogenesis”that creates our autumnal gales, and Phillippe has been relegated to the status of an appendage in the developing gale’s warm sector. Seemingly the developing gale grabbed the attention of the forecasters, and the ex-tropical-storm was suppose to simply cease to be. The only problem was, someone forgot to tell Phillippe.

Phillippe then proceeded to make the weather bureau look like dopes.  I figure I really have no right to criticize, unless I am on the record with a different forecast, because any fool can criticize weathermen using 20-20 hindsight. It takes guts to stick your neck out when you are dealing with multiple variables and a chaotic system, and most of the time the weather bureau does an amazing job. If you doubt me, try to forecast better than they do. But don’t try it unless your ego can withstand looking more dopey than a dope.

On this occasion I am kicking myself, because I should have gone on record. I was simply too busy with other stuff to put my doubts down in words, as a short post. I’ll put them down now as an afterthought, so you may share my doubts the next time you notice two things.

First, any sort of tropical storm in the warm sector of a developing gale will up the ante. The “Perfect Storm” 1991 had Hurricane Grace to tap. Other autumnal gales have seemed to fail to weaken even when occluded, as if the occlusion was a pipeline of tropical juice, (and at times as if the tropical storm was unwinding and feeding directly into the Gale.) In such cases a gale can give New England staggering amounts of rain. In other cases the upper air trough, digging down into the USA to create the Gale, is “negatively tilted” in such a manner the remnant of a tropical storm (and the gale-center itself) do not head out to sea, but curve inland, and at times the tropical remnant is accelerated north so abruptly that it is as if it is whipped north, and consequently it retains some of its tropical characteristics over waters so cold one ordinary would expect the storm to cease being tropical.

This brings me to my second point, which is that the hurricane center has some new and nit-picky way of defining a tropical storm that, to be a bit rude, seems ludicrous to me. Often it seems a case of “straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel”.

To say Hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane when it came ashore is a prime example, and may have even cost a few people their lives. Saying “Hurricane Sandy no longer exists” causes the average Joe to drop his guard. People don’t respect a “gale” the same way they respect a “hurricane”, and the weather bureau is suppose to serve the public, and not puff the vanity they display when they think they are showing off some sort of prowess, in being able to make some hair-splitting distinction between when a storm is officially “tropical” and when it becomes “extra-tropical”.

To make matters worse, once they have made this distinction, they then take themselves too seriously. Having determined Phillippe was no longer a tropical storm, because they did not put it on their map as more than an appendage, they were caught off guard when it came crashing through New England between the hours of midnight and 3:00 AM. And I’m sure they would be swift to give a multitude of reasons why it was not an actual tropical storm as it crashed through. But someone ought tell them, “If it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”

It is amazing how fast such storms come north, when conditions are right. The 1938 hurricane sliced through New England moving at an estimated 60 mph. Likely it had lost its purely tropical characteristics, and there may even some nit-pickers at the weather bureau who can dicker in a nasal voice, “It wasn’t actually a hurricane.” That is how far from the outdoors computers can jail some poor minds, but anyone who quibbles the 1938 hurricane was not a hurricane quacks like a duck.

(Yet nearly all of these quibblers will tell you Hazel was not a tropical disturbance as it completely clobbered Toronto.)

In actual fact Phillippe ripped through New England like a smaller and weaker version of the 1938 storm, with abruptly rising winds and amazing, torrential downpours. Like the 1938 storm it and came and went before many fully registered what hit them. (Because it was weaker, some even slept through the event.)

I am personally praying we can get through this “warm” AMO without a repeat of the 1938 hurricane, because I don’t want to face cleaning up the mess. (It will be a job for the young and strong.) However Philippe is a reminder of what is possible. It shows how speeding tropical “disturbances” do not lose their tropical characteristics in the manner that computer models foresee. (Also Philippe may explain a strange “mini-hurricane” that lore reports bisected New England in the 1700’s.)

At bedtime on October 29 the forecast was “windy and rainy overnight”, but the wind and rains were light as my wife and I were turning in, around 9:00. I told her, “There will be quite a ruckus overnight. A tropical storm will be whipping past.” (How I wish I had posted that.) The last rainfall prediction I’d looked at stated the heaviest rain would be well to our west, over New York State, yet we might get as much as two inches.

Around midnight the wind awoke me. The rain drops were pelting the window as loudly as sleet, and the branches were roaring in a manner that made me glad that most of our leaves were gone. (Such a storm does far more damage when foliage is green). Then I remembered the auto-save on my ancient computer is having problems, and went downstairs to save my last post manually. Smart move. Shortly after I did it the lights blinked, and I had to reboot. After that I decided I might as well stay awake a while, and watched the unreal rains on the radar.

How much did we get? It’s hard to say, as rain gauges overflow at three inches, and not many were in the mood to go out at 1:30 AM, and again at 3:00 AM, to tend to their rain gauges. But empty wheelbarrows left in yards were brimming by dawn, (when they hadn’t been blown over.)  Despite the autumnal drought, the rains earlier in the week and these rains made small ditches torrents. And, as usual, every drain got clogged, as they always do in October gales, because the waters hold a summer’s worth of fallen leaves. Not only do drains clog, but culverts are plugged, as the clogging leaves are not alone, but mixed with twigs and branches and soon covered by sand and pebbles flushed down gutters by the torrents, until the culvert is completely buried:

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After that, water cannot go underground as intended, and rivers rattle cobblestones as big as grapefruits over tar, which makes things look untidy by dawn.

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Fortunately all this water didn’t go roaring through the center of town, because of the “flood control reservoir” upstream. As it is next-door to my Childcare, I took the children out to see how much higher the waters were. I wanted to see if they cared a hoot, and was somewhat surprised to see it did register upon the psyche of children only three and four years old, even if it can’t impress the ignorance of the computer modelers. Phillippe still had a heck of a clout,  passing through New England, though they had officiously pronounced him dead, a thousand miles south.

When you bother leave the cushy armchairs of computer sanctuaries, the outdoors can allow you to be as wise as a three year old. A little child notices when a spot where I allowed them to practice vandalism by smashing water with stones:

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Becomes a place they cannot go because it is under eight feet of water.

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They notice when the looming concrete outlet of the reservoir, eight feet high, is under water.

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They likely notice a lot of other things as well. Why do I say this? Because they haven’t lived as long as I, and can’t call this water level “the highest since 1997”. Also they lack the math to compute the huge amount of water held in check, and are not able to estimate the down-stream floods that would be occurring if not for this flood-control reservoir (and many others like it). Yet, despite this ignorance, they recognized this was one heck of an “event”, and their little jaws dropped, and they looked at me and exclaimed with owlish eyes, and demanded I tell them “why”.

Fortunately I can get off the hook by simply telling them, “Because it is a flood.” I add a word, “flood”, to their vocabulary. I don’t have to hurt their faith in grown-ups by telling them the grown-ups utterly botched the forecast, and the government experts displayed fabulous ineptitude.

What I especially avoid telling trusting children is that some grown-ups actually expect the government, which botched the forecast, to then step in and provide an answer to the ruin Philippe, (whom the government said didn’t exist), caused in certain neighborhoods (a ruin some children were quite aware of, as they had to stay home a day or two, due to the devastation).

The two best estimates, from people I trust (within limits), is that we had either seven-and-a-half or ten inches of rain, overnight. This turned, in places, ditches into ravines that undermined roads and (with the help of gales) toppled electrical poles. People were concerned they might not be able to recharge their cell-phones, and hurried to use dwindling batteries to call up the government, and demanded their roads be repaired and their electricity be restored, as if repairs involved a few clicks on a computer.


In earlier posts I’ve mentioned I know fellows on the road department, and am familiar with the work involved in fixing a thing as small as a pothole. It is not a virtual thing, involving a click of a computer. It involves sweat, and when the blemish in the road is not a pothole, but an abrupt gully six feet deep, the work involved is much greater.

In earlier posts I’ve also mentioned I’m friends with the fire chief, which may seem an odd factoid to bring up in a flood. But apparently there are some who do not respond by getting buckets and bailing, when their cellars are flooded, but instead call the fire department. The fire department represents the government, and also has pumps, and therefore the fire department needs to fix the problem, when Philippe floods the cellars of certain idiots.

Excuse me? If you bought the house, isn’t the cellar your problem? Or did the government buy your house? Yet people seem to feel their cellar is the problem I should pay taxes to fix.

It would be one thing if the fire department were called a single time for a single emergency, but certain people call the fire department rainstorm after rainstorm.

One fellow bought a house with a cellar so prone to flooding that he actually qualified for FEMA assistance. He had not only a pump, but a generator to run the pump when electricity failed, given to him for free, paid for by taxpayers like me. However, because Philippe was not forecast, he did not expect to lose power, or for his cellar to flood, and he therefore didn’t turn on the free generator and the free pump the government had provided. So he called the fire department at three in the morning, and told them the water in his cellar was nearly up to his electrical box. Then, as the local volunteers, groggy and called from warm beds, arrived, he jabbed a thumb backwards towards the door to his cellar, and went back to bed.

This really happened. I’m not making it up. As a consequence,  the volunteers were irate, and what used to be a freely given gift of good-heated local volunteers will soon be a deed you are charged for. If you want your basement pumped you will pay. (This is much like search-and-rescue now charging the people they search for and rescue.)

What it boils down to is this:

There is an outdoors reality that bureaucrats indoors by computers completely miss.

When this “outdoor reality” does more than tap our shoulders with a little “event” like Philippe, but instead clouts our jaws with a 1938 hurricane, a lot of our neighbors will be utterly helpless. They will call the government on their cell phones and then go back to bed. When they wake up and realize no help has arrived, someone will have to help them.

What are we to do? To a certain degree volunteers can be counted upon to step in as saviors even before the government bureaucrats show up for work, as happened when Harvey flooded Houston.  However beyond that certain point one cannot sit and think someone else will come to the rescue. At that time a person must discover an old fashioned thing called “self-reliance”. The question, looking at certain people, is: “Do they actually have any self-reliance? Or do they assume the mouse of a computer answers all problems?”

HURRICANE HARVEY –Galveston; head for the hills–(UPDATED WEDNESDAY)

At the Weatherbell Site Joseph D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi, (whom I consider among the best of the old-school forecasters), have been warning us that Harvey could be a threat to Texas since last week, (when models were suggesting Harvey was headed for Mexico or Central America, or even would die out after crashing into the Yucatan.). Now others are catching on, but Bastardi’s map of a possible track is a sort of worst-case-scenario that needs to be soberly considered, if you live down that way. Of course, though I like Mr. Bastardi a lot and wish him no ill, I’m praying he’s wrong. (After all, it is no sin for a meteorologist to be wrong; anyone dealing with the weather is often surprised by the twists and turns of chaotic systems. But what would be a sin would be for a meteorologist to fail to alert us of danger, and, as Mr.Bastardi is alerting us of danger, we should sit up and take notice.)

Here is the scenario he has drawn up:

Hurricane Harvey 1 download(2)

Notice Bastardi has the hurricane loop over land and then restrengthen over the Gulf of Mexico, with the ominous note, “May be close to, if not, major at both landfalls.”

To the east of the storm this involves persistent south winds and persistent heavy rains. The rains are somewhat beyond the comprehension of me, up north, where three inches is “heavy”. Parts of the Texas coast could get three feet!  Here is one of Dr. Ryan Maue’s maps (from the Weatherbell site; week free trial available.) Even his excellent map can’t comprehend the rainfall, as the color-key maxes out at 25 inches (two feet).

Hurricane Harvey 2 ecmwf_tprecip_tx_40(2)

What does this potentially mean for people on the Texas coast, east of the eye of the storm? It means a nasty storm surge from the south, due to the winds, at the same time as nasty flooding comes from the north, due to rains.

They say everything is bigger in Texas, (including egos), but there is some truth to this saying, when you look at the history of their floods and storms.

A saint delivered the book “Isaac’s Storm” to my hospital bed as I recovered from an operation a few years back, and I felt a lot less sorry for myself, reading about the unmitigated disaster the Great Hurricane of 1900 brought Galveston, a disaster which lost the fair city thousands of its thriving, young lives.

If you visit that area one thing that strikes you is how amazingly flat the coast is. In the case of a flood, you have a long, long way to go, if you are going to find a hill to head for. Therefore, if you are going to head for the hills, you should start early.

Galveston is now protected by a huge seawall they lacked in 1900, because they learned their lesson. They know the waters can pile up on that coast, and tides can rise twenty feet above normal. These huge tides can travel miles inland, with the landscape so flat. You can be ten miles inland and have salt water lapping at your front door.

Meanwhile, even if the landscape was perfectly flat, you’d have a flood of two to three feet, simply because of the rain. But the landscape isn’t perfectly flat, and all that rain starts to flow south.

The Texas landscape has wide, dry rivers crossed by long bridges, which causes visitors to wonder, especially when years pass and the dry river only has a small flash flood towards the middle, caused by a big thunderstorm. Visitors wonder why so much money was spent building such a long and expensive bridge. Then they see the same bridge, spanning dirty brown waters surging south from bank to bank of the “dry” river, because a tropical storm has dropped the equivalent of a thousand big thunderstorms, with its drenching rains.

Usually the floods from the sea have receded as the Hurricane dies and rains out over the land, and tides withdraw before the floods from the lands peak. What is so nasty about Mr. Bastardi’s track is that the winds don’t quit, and the sea keeps surging north even as the rainwater floods south. Where land-floods and sea-floods meet, the water could become absurdly deep, even in places miles away from both the coast and the river banks.

Then, as a final twist to the knife of this worst-case scenario, if the track of Harvey is as Mr. Bastardi predicts, all the water piled up against the coast will abruptly be pushed south, as winds swing swiftly to the north. This would push water out to sea, you might think. But, in terms of the Houston Ship Channel  and Galveston Bay, it would drive high waters against the landward sides of places that perhaps don’t have seawalls facing north towards land, including Galveston itself.

Yikes. For this reason I pray Joe Bastardi blows this forecast. Joseph D’Aleo, at his Weatherbell blog, points out computers offer other solutions; other paths Harvey might take:

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I think people should recognize the way meteorologists stick their necks out, when they make a risky and threatening forecast. If they see a real danger, they need to speak, to save lives, but they also face a nearly unlimited opportunity for looking like a chump. What would you chose to do? If you are right, you look like Paul Revere. If you are wrong, you look like Chicken Little. And you must chose NOW!

It is wise to turn to scripture in such situations. What did the prophet Jonah do? He was asked to deliver an unpleasant forecast to the people of Ninevah. Basically he was suppose to tell the Hell Angel’s of his time to shape up their act. Quite wisely (in my humble opinion) he said, “no bleeping way”, and headed in the opposite direction as fast as he could scamper. Then he got redirected, and wound up back in Ninevah, telling the Hell’s Angels fire and brimstone was going to rain down on them, because they were way too rowdy. Then he retired to the hills to watch the fire and brimstone rain down. However he blew his forecast. The people of Ninevah completely shaped up their act, for a little while (around a generation,) and the forecast fire and brimstone was delayed. Therefore you have this great scene in the Bible, with Jonah rather irate and sulking in the hills above Ninevah, because  he has (against his will) told the Hell’s Angels they’d get rained-on, but no rains fell.

Every meteorologist is, at some point, in the shoes of Jonah.

This is especially true if, as some suggest, people facing bad weather can change the weather by prayer, or New Age diets. or Hopi rain dances, or by buying anti-Global-Warming curly light bulbs. In fact, if human behavior can change the weather, meteorologists should keep their forecasts a secret, for, if they tell people, people will pray, and prayer will ruin their forecasts.

I would recommend meteorologists to do what psychologists do. When the forecasts of psychologists are absurdly wrong, they blame the client. In like manner, when the forecasts of weathermen are incorrect, they should blame the Baptist Church, or New Age dancers, or whatever, but those weathermen never listen to me.

Instead meteorologists attempt to forecast chaos, and confess when they are wrong. They are pretty amazingly humble, compared to the way the rest of us behave. Therefore, when the likes of Mr. Bastardi sticks his neck out, and makes an unpleasant forecast, I tend to think we should heed it.

Just as the tough dudes of Ninevah once heeded the oddball called Jonah,  the tough dudes of Texas should head for higher ground.


Friday Morning (5:00 EST)  25.9°N 95.4°W  Winds 105 mph.  Moving NW,  9 mph.

Hurricane Harvey 4 NHIR

1:00 PM 27.1°N 96.3°W; moving NW 10 mph; Winds 110 mph; pressure 27.91

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5:00 PM

27.5N 96.5W; Moving northwest 10 mph. Winds 125 mph. Pressure 29.79

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Harvey’s northward movement hasn’t yet slowed towards any sort of a stall, which is likely a good thing, as getting the center over the land will weaken the winds.

The eye wall went through a reformation today, where a small inner eye wall is replaced by a wider outer eye wall. Often the storm’s strengthening hesitates during this process, but Harvey kept right on growing deeper, with stronger winds. Fortunately the wildest winds are close to the center and hurricane force winds, at this point, extend out around 35 miles from the center. Also the center appears to be aiming for a relatively uninhabited area between Corpus Christi and Galveston, rather than hitting either city with the full brunt of his fury.

9:00 Update

27.9°N 96.9°W; moving NW at 8 mph; winds 130 mph; pressure 27.79.

NHC reports:

“A station at Aransas Pass run by the Texas Coastal Observing
Network recently reported a sustained wind of 102 mph (165 km/h)
with a gust to 120 mph (193 km/h).

A station at Aransas Wildlife Refuge run by the Texas Coastal
Observing Network recently reported a sustained wind of 71 mph
(115 km/h) with a gust to 102 mph (165 km/h).”

So, with the eye just about to go ashore,  prayers apparently have been effective, as the core of highest winds are hitting a wildlife refuge, rather than a populated area. (Tree-huggers will groan about damaged dunes, in which case I will remind them a hurricane is as”natural” as a natural park.) Also we should be thankful the storm is not as vast as Hurricane Carla was in 1961. Carla gave the entire Texas coast hurricane-force winds.

However the danger now is that people away from the center get lulled into a false sense of security. Hopefully Harvey will continue inland as Carla did, and politely die. But Harvey has slowed a bit, from 10 mph to 8 mph, and this may be a sign it will loop-de-loop as Bastardi forecast. In that case, because part of the storm will remain over the warm, refueling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it will not weaken as swiftly as Carla did. Furthermore, if it manages to loop back down over the warm water, it may even restrengthen. In this case the people northeast of the storm in Galveston, who may currently be thinking this is just another example of media sensationalism and hysteria, (because they are only experiencing rain and moderate tropical force winds),  will notice the rains just won’t quit, nor will the winds. This will get old after a couple days, and if the winds and rains increase after three days, it will be more than old; it will be ancient.

Therefore people shouldn’t yet breathe a sigh of relief and drop their guard, (nor should “prayer-warriors” stop praying.) (A hurricane is like a rattlesnake; you don’t joke about it until it is all the way dead.)


 8:00 AM:  28.7°N 97.3°W; NNW at 6 mph; 978 mb; 80 mph

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1:00 PM  –Harvey downgraded to tropical storm–Nearly stalled–

29.1°N 97.6°W;  Moving NNW at 2 mph; Winds 70 mph; Pressure 29.15

The feeder band seen in the above satellite view passed through Galveston with heavy rain but now is east of them.

Here is a great view of the tight, small eye just before it went ashore.

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In some ways it resembles an oversized tornado.  Fulton got creamed as Corpus Christi laughed that all the hoopla was blown out of proportion. In fact the proportions of the strong winds near the eye were tight and narrow. If the hurricane had another day over the warm waters things would have been very different.

Now it will just be day after day after day of rains, as we wait to see if Harvey can get back down over the water and restrengthen.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 27–Harvey headed back to Gulf of Mexico–

10:00 AM  29.0°N 97.4°W; Moving SSE at 2 mph;  Winds 40 mph; Pressure 29,53

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The feeder bands kept reforming and heading up over Galvelston and Houston last night. The far from the center at times they got rain at a rate of four to six inches an hour, and in places have totals up near twenty inches.

5:00 PM  Harvey stopped weakening; still heading for the Gulf of Mexico

29.0°N 97.0°W; Moving southeast 2 mph; winds at 40 mph, pressure 29.53

9:00 PM

28.9°N 96.8°W Moving southeast 3 mph;  winds at 40 mph; pressure 29.53

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Harvey is drawing in dry air on his west side, shown on the moisture map.

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I’m nervous this may push the storm farther south than models see.  I tend to see a storms isobars as a solid form, like a solid top, but they actually move like waves, and can shift in a manner a physical top can’t. Hurricanes seem to seek warm water and juicy air, and to flee dryness and land. Harvey may get drawn away from land, and even away from the waters his first passage cooled (which remain warm enough to strengthen a storm) towards the untouched and above-normal waters south of Galveston. Time (and sunrise) will tell.

MONDAY, AUGUST 28 –Harvey Reaching Sea; Slight Restrengthening

5:00 AM  28.6°N 96.3°W; Moving SE 3 mph; Winds 40 mph; Pressure 29.48

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The dry air has circled right around and is now coming up from the southeast , giving Houston and Galveston a break. However moister air has also circled right around and is now collapsing south from the north towards the center.

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The heaviest rain-band is east of Houston, over Beaumont. The danger is a new rain-band will form southwest of Houston and come north, as Harvey strengthens again.

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11:00 Am 28.5°N 96.0°W Moving SE 5 mph; Winds 40 mph; Pressure 29.44

The fact the pressure is falling when diurnal variation usually uplifts makes it look like Harvey is already starting to ramp up despite not being over the water all the way and despite dry air. Cloud shot looks like some small convection is bubbling up as well. And though the water is “cooled” and “only normal”, normal is darn warm. I expect the storm to blow up faster than most expect.

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TUESDAY AUGUST 29  —Flooding Rains Continue In Houston—

2:00 AM 28.0°N 95.0°W; Moving ESE 5 mph; Winds 45 mph; Pressure 29.44

The only good news is that Harvey hasn’t ramped up, despite being over water. But the nighttime infrared picture does seem to hint at an eye-line structure south of the official center, and the storm hasn’t yet turned north towards land, which will kill it for once and for all.

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Of course this flooding will be blamed on Global Warming, though history shows us other examples of amazing Texas floods. (What amazes me is Joe Bastardi’s forecast and the fact Joe D’Aleo was posting charts of historical Texas floods a week before the storm even hit.)

Hurricane Harvey 22 Slide01(161)

Houston’s growth has been amazing, but it has sprawled out into many flat areas that were flooded in the past without anyone even noticing. It is now the fourth largest metropolitan area in the nation.

year rank population

1900 85 44633
1910 68 78800
1920 45 138276
1930 26 292352
1940 21 384514
1950 14 596163
1960 7 938219
1970 6 1232802
1980 5 1595138
1990 4 1630553

Quibbling about politics is not needed in this situation, though I have to state politics is in disgrace, when you consider the amounts of money squandered for patronage and cronyism that should have been spent on actual engineering. (New Orleans has been given billions by the American taxpayer, and hasn’t even kept its pumps working, and is currently threatened by a failure of those pumps).

5:00 AM  —Harvey Starting Recurve—

28.1°N 94.8°W; moving East 3 mph; winds 45 mph; Pressure 29.44

Not daylight yet in Texas, but notice the new convection popping up out to sea southwest of Galveston in infrared picture below. They don’t need that.

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4:00 PM 29.2°N 94.3°W Moving NNE at 6 mph; Winds 50 mph; Pressure 29.36

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8:00 PM –Storm Strengthening; North winds pushing Bay into north Galveston; Rains finally ending in Houston.

28.7°N 93.9°W;  Movement E 6 mph; Winds 50 mph; Pressure 29.36

Not sure why storm swerved to the east.

THURSAY, AUGUST 39  –Harvey moves inland and weakens

1:00 AM CDT Wed Aug 30
Location: 29.2°N 93.5°W
Moving: NE at 7 mph
Min pressure: 995 mb
Max sustained: 45 mph

4:00 PM CDT Wed Aug 30
Location: 30.8°N 93.1°W
Moving: NNE at 8 mph
Min pressure: 998 mb
Max sustained: 40 mph

Hurricane Harvey 26 vis0-lalo