All facts about Hurricane Harvey

History of hurricane Harvey and what are the consequences? | RainViewer Blog

On Saturday, August 26, a powerful Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast. It was the eighth cyclone of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. At the end of August 2017, this major hurricane caused massive damage in the Caribbean countries and the southern parts of the USA.

Hurricane Harvey originated off the coast of South America in mid-August, then proceeded through the Gulf of Mexico, and made landfall in the United States on August 25. Storm waves and wind destroyed coastal settlements, after which the storm slowed down, causing a huge downpour over Houston.

The first strike of Harvey affected the town of Corpus Christi. Then the hurricane moved toward the small town of Rockport with a population of about 10,000 people. When approaching the shore, the storm got the fourth category on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the wind speed reached 133 miles per hour. The speed of the strongest wind gusts was around 149 miles per hour (Category 4), and severe flood damage was expected as the storm was moving very slowly. Later, the National Hurricane Center reduced the hurricane category to the first, as the wind speed decreased to 74 miles per hour.


Image source: CNN

Hurricane Harvey, accompanied by heavy rainfall, forced thousands of people to leave their homes. Transmission lines were cut off in many localities, and more than 211,000 people in Texas remained without electricity. More than 2,000 people contacted emergency services with a request to evacuate their homes. Torrential rain and hurricane-force winds hampered the work of rescue services, so they could not always promptly respond to requests for help.

To summarize, Hurricane Harvey:

  • hit Texas on August 26, 2017,
  • had wind gusts up to 149 mph,
  • caused precipitation of over 47 inches,
  • left 211,000 people without electricity,
  • took 107 lives,
  • and cost $190 billion.

How Did Hurricane Harvey Develop?

Harvey was a tricky hurricane. It began as a weak tropical storm and quickly dissipated over the Caribbean Sea. But then it was “reborn” over the Bay of Campeche as a Category 4 hurricane and made landfall in Texas, causing heavy rains of unbelievable 60 inches.


Image source: Wikipedia

Long before Harvey hit Texas, it was on its way over the Atlantic. More than two weeks earlier, on August 13, 2017, a tropical wave formed southwest of the Cape Verde archipelago. The wave moved rapidly westward across the Atlantic, forming a tropical depression. On August 17, 2017, the thunderstorms finally organized into a tropical storm. The storm crossed the Lesser Antilles (Barbados) and reached the Caribbean. There, however, the storm weakened considerably and almost completely dissipated.

After the remnants of the storm had crossed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, they encountered extremely favorable formation conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. Harvey reorganized and gained sufficient momentum to intensify into a Category 1 hurricane. Shortly before its arrival on the Texas coast, it reached the second-highest Category 4. Warm waters of 86°F and only very little wind shear made Hurricane Harvey stronger again.


Image source: Wikipedia

Where Did Hurricane Harvey Make Landfall?

Rockport (Texas) and its 10,000 residents were the first on the American Gulf Coast to feel the full force of the hurricane on August 26, 2017. Harvey became nearly stationary with its center, which resulted in rainfall of biblical proportions. Overall, in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, local precipitation totals of more than 47 inches accumulated within 4 to 5 days. For comparison, Houston International Airport typically gets just 3.7 inches of rain in a full month of August - Harvey brought 30 inches of rain in just a few days.

As a rule, a hurricane quickly weakens over land and loses energy due to increased friction as well as the lack of moisture and heat from the sea. However, after Harvey moved inland and made landfall, it barely moved. The hurricane was swirling over the same area for an unusually long time and continuing to draw energetic air from water into its circulation. Additionally, constant high-pressure areas over the northwest and east of the USA did not allow the tropical cyclone to move quickly, so its impact time lasted several days over the same areas. Hurricane Harvey also caused river flooding: the levels of several rivers in southeastern Texas and parts of Louisiana reached new record highs.

Hurricane Harvey Consequences

As of 2017, Harvey was the strongest tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2021, it was outperformed by Hurricane Ida. The hurricane caused catastrophic flooding in Houston, one of the largest cities in Texas. The authorities were forced to evacuate over 2,000 people from dangerous areas. Harvey was named the most devastating natural disaster in Texas history and the second costliest one after Katrina. Property damage from Hurricane Harvey is estimated to be at least $190 billion.

In Houston alone, an estimated 40,000 homes were destroyed. Due to Harvey’s flooding in the capital of Texas, cases of looting became common, due to which authorities imposed a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am.


Image source: U.S. News

Hurricane Harvey was accompanied by heavy rains, due to which many areas of Texas went underwater. Flash flooding caused 90% of Harvey’s damage to date. Only about 10% of the calculated damage was caused by the high wind speeds. Residential properties were hit hardest, with losses estimated at $19 billion.

Nearly 30% of Harris County, which includes Houston, was submerged. The Houston metro area has experienced rapid development over the past few decades. With a population of over 4.5 million, Harris County ranks third in the United States by population. Over 100 people died during the hurricane, and 68 of them died directly because of the storm. In Texas, it was the second greatest number of direct deadly victims of a hurricane since 1919.

Indirect damage such as business interruptions, costs for temporary measures, destroyed infrastructure, or the increase in the price of raw materials or goods will continue to have an impact. More than one-fifth of US oil and gas production came to a standstill. The largest US refinery in Port Arthur was forced to close on August 30 due to flooding and power outages. A total of around 300,000 people were without power. On August 31, significant explosions occurred at two chemical plants in Texas as a result of widespread flooding and a complete power outage.


Image source: ABC News

Hurricane Harvey and Climate Change

There has never been a rainier storm in North American history. Floods of this magnitude can only be expected once every 500 years. Researchers believe that human-induced climate change has greatly increased their likelihood.

An example of a highest-category hurricane was Katrina. In August 2005, this hurricane caused significant damage equivalent to over $125 billion. 1,800 people died, five million were without electricity for days or weeks, and a million people lost their homes. The hurricane is still considered one of the deadliest natural disasters in US history.

RankEventAverage paid loss, $
1Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 200595,640
2Hurricane Harvey, Sep. 2017117,192
3Superstorm Sandy, Oct. 201264,852
4Hurricane Ike, Sep. 200856,517
5Louisiana severe storms and flooding, Aug. 201691,432
6Hurricane Ivan, Sep. 200452,791
7Hurricane Ida, Sep. 202155,658
8Hurricane Jeanne, Sep. 200448,062
9Hurricane Irene, Aug. 201129,894
10Hurricane Irma, Sep. 201749,884

Table source: Insurance Information Institute

So far, such hurricanes have tended to be the exception: in the 20th century, a storm of this intensity only happened every 20 years. However, due to climate change, hurricanes of this category could become more frequent. The reason is the rising water temperature, which results in more water vapor and thus more potential energy for the storms.

So will there be more “Katrinas” and “Harveys” in the future? The number of such superstorms has already increased over the past three decades, and climate models suggest that this trend will intensify further.

American scientists analyzed data on hurricanes in the United States since 1950. They then built several climate models that estimated hurricane strength and impact under different conditions, such as different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Flooding after Hurricane Harvey was at least 19% stronger than after a hurricane of the same strength in the middle of the 20th century.

If global temperatures rise by two degrees, storms like Katrina, Harvey, and Ida could occur every other year. At the same time, the side effects of such hurricanes could intensify, because warmer air can store more moisture, which then rains down in the form of extreme precipitation.


To stay safe from powerful tropical storms such as Hurricane Harvey, it is crucial to keep up to date with weather warnings from the National Weather Service. You can quickly receive these warnings via the RainViewer app and follow the storm’s track on the radar map right on your smartphone. All you have to do is turn on severe weather alerts in RainViewer’s notification center and activate the Storm Tracks map layer.

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