Update, 4:35 p.m.: The National Weather has extended the hurricane warning slightly north to Sargent, about 70 miles south of Houston. Harris County remains under a tropical storm warning, with an increased forecast for rainfall. The area should now expect between 12 and 18 inches of rain, with as much as 35 inches in isolated areas along the middle and upper Texas coast. Harris County is also under a storm surge watch. The warning is closer to the coast. The coast line between Jamaica Beach and Sargent may expect a surge between 4 and 8 feet, while from Jamaica Beach to High Island, in the Galveston area, the surge may be 2 to 4 feet.
Update, 1:30 p.m.: The National Weather Service has officially designated Harvey as a hurricane, with winds expected at 85 miles an hour; as it gets closer to landfall, the storm is expected to strengthen. Houston remains under a tropical storm warning. A storm surge warning has been extended from just northeast of San Luis Pass to High Island; eastern parts of Harris County are under a storm surge watch. From Jamaica Beach to High Island, storm surge is expected to reach between two and four feet.
Houston is now under a tropical storm warning as Harvey approaches the Texas coast, expected to make landfall as a hurricane along the south and south-central coast late Friday night.
At 10 a.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service said Harvey is "quickly strengthening" and expected to develop into a Category 3 "major hurricane" once it makes landfall on the Texas coast, up from Category 1 at 7 a.m. The hurricane warning extends from Matagorda down to Port Mansfield and a tropical storm warning extends from north of Matagorda up to High Island, which includes Harris County and Fort Bend County. Governor Greg Abbott has already declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties along the coast.
Once Harvey travels up the coast Saturday, National Weather Service expects it to dump 10 to 15 inches of rain on the Houston region over a few days, with extensive flooding being the most significant threat. Isolated areas may receive up to 30 inches. Wind speeds are expected to reach between 25 and 35 miles an hour, with gusts up to 45 miles an hour. A storm surge of 2 to 4 feet is expected from San Luis Pass to High Island.
This morning, the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management upgraded to Level 1 Maximum Readiness to prep for the storm, meaning "hazardous conditions exist and they are a direct threat to life and property."
"It means we are fully activated and we have staff working 24 hours to support emergency operations," said spokesperson Rosie Torres. "We are geared up for this storm. We understand that once it makes landfall it could be a hurricane, and we are concerned about the weather it will bring to our area, especially the rain that is expected to cause severe flooding."
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Houston Independent School District announced that all campus-based activities, athletic activities and district events after 2 p.m. Friday and over the weekend have been canceled. The district is closely monitoring the storm for possible closures on the first day of school Monday. Update, 12:05 p.m.: HISD is closing school on Monday and all activities and events are also canceled; the district will make a decision about a possible closure on Tuesday by noon Sunday. Decisions about school closures at Fort Bend ISD, Katy ISD and Aldine ISD have not yet been released.
Airlines are also already taking precautions for customers. United has a travel waiver in place allowing customers to change their flight plans free of charge, and American Airlines said that while it has not yet made changes to flights, it has issued a travel alert and may also be offering waivers. Bill Begley with the Houston Airport System advised all travelers to check with their airline about their flight status before heading to the airport and not to risk leaving their homes if conditions are too hazardous on the roadways.
Right now, Harvey is just inching along in the Gulf of Mexico, traveling northwest at about ten miles an hour. It's about 437 miles away from Houston. As we noted earlier, Harvey bears some similarities to 2001's deadly Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped a whopping 38 inches of rain on the Houston region over several days. Harvey's path and speed is also similar to Allison's, as it's expected to inch up the coast from Friday through early next week, dumping buckets of rain for long periods of time.
“You've got a situation in place where all the ingredients are there,” Berger explained. “While a storm might otherwise be pulled northeast after 12 or 13 hours of heavy rainfall, in this case, you could get two to three days of rain.”