CARC Seeks Solution to 1,000-Year Storm
Hurricane Harvey was a monstrous hurricane that shattered several rainfall records. From its roots in West Africa, to Mexico, through Texas and on into Tennessee, Harvey went through many different stages, growing from a tropical wave that finally formed into a tropical storm and on to a category 4 hurricane with winds raging at a speed of 130 mph that spanned hundreds of miles. Harvey was a Category 4 Hurricane when it made landfall near Rockport, Texas. Before it would end, Harvey would have dumped over 33 trillion gallons of water in the US, with more than 1.25 trillion gallons of that occurring in Harris and Waller counties in Texas.
A very slow moving system, Harvey meandered around wreaking its havoc in Texas for four days before it finally began to relinquish its fury and weakened from hurricane to tropical storm status. The vast amount of water that it unleashed during that time is the equivalent to all of the domestic uses of water for the entire population of the two counties for at least five years.
Southeast Texas received a new rainfall record of 51.88 inches during Hurricane Harvey, making it a 1-in-1,000-year event. On average, Harris County received 34 inches of rainfall as a result of Harvey, which is equivalent to 1.05 trillion gallons of water. The damage and devastation was widespread. Tornadic winds tore roofs off of homes. The massive downpour of rain resulted in flooded streets, homes and businesses; and caused temporarily homelessness of more than 30,000 people in the Houston area, alone. Hurricane Harvey is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Some economic projections estimate the cost of repairing the damage caused in Texas by Harvey to be between $81 and $108 billion: 500,000 cars and trucks flooded, more than 185,000 homes flooded, oil refineries closes, and there was a significant drop in crude oil production. Many lost their lives as a result of the storm.
The water team in the Cooperative Agricultural Research Center (CARC) has been conducting research in the areas of flood adaptation and mitigation. Specific research topics include modeling and prediction of flood events, trend analysis of extreme climate and hydrologic events and flood inundation mapping using satellite images. Findings of such research will help to inform policymakers and Texans about the impacts of flooding and potential flood mitigation strategies, e.g., the effectiveness of detention ponds and dams in reducing flooding. Members of the team are currently studying the impact of Harvey on the Greater Houston area using different decision support systems. They are developing practical solutions to the flooding in this area using these tools. One of the solutions being tested is how the addition of one or more reservoirs in the northwest part of Harris County would impact the hydrology of the area, based on current and future land use projections. The outcomes of this study could result in a savings of millions of dollars and many lives.
Ali Fares Ph.D.
Associate Director for Research
Extension Associate, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Ripendra Awal Ph.D.