As Hurricane Harvey neared the Texas coast at the sluggish pace of 10 miles an hour and thunderstorms hit some parts of the extended Houston area early Friday morning, Houston and Harris County remained under a tropical storm warning, flash flood watch and storm surge watch, and prepared to be deluged over the course of the next several days after Harvey makes landfall.
Harvey is expected to roll into the Corpus Christi and Port O'Connor areas Friday night as a "major hurricane" with winds upwards of 110 miles an hour, making it a Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane warning extends from Port Mansfield up to Sargent, 70 miles south of Houston. As it swirls around in the Gulf—about 210 miles away as of 1 a.m.— it's currently a Category 2 hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 105 miles an hour, only expected to increase, according to the National Weather Service.
The topical storm conditions in the Houston area are expected to cause between 12 and 18 inches of rain through early next week, as Harvey may "stall" for a bit over the weekend, according to the NWS. Update, 7:48 a.m.: NWS is now forecasting 18 to 24 inches for the Houston region. In fact, NWS doesn't project that the eye of the storm will even reach Houston until 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Which kind makes Harvey like that unwanted house guest who, after making a total mess, doesn't get the hint that it's time to leave.
This is what makes Harvey so dangerous, meteorologists say: The longer it lingers, the more rainfall we're going to get. Isolated areas along the middle and upper coast may see as much as 35 inches, NWS forecasts. Wind force in Houston isn't nearly as much as a problem as it is near Corpus Christi; forecasters expect winds between 20 and 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles an hour. But NWS also gives Houston about a 75 percent chance of seeing tropical-storm-force winds greater than 39 miles per hour.
It's the first hurricane to hit Texas since Ike in 2008, and the first major hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005.
Houston Public Works and Engineering Department spokesperson Alanna Reed said PWE has prepared dozens of road barriers in the case of flash flooding and has ten dump trucks that work as rescue vehicles, equipped with ladders and life jackets, ready to go. Public Works coordinates Houston Fire Department, which also has its own fleet of rescue vehicles and boats. (See full lists of high-water locations and intersections to avoid here.)
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Houston Community College is closed from Friday at 3 through Monday and the University of Houston is closed after 1 Friday through Sunday. Houston Independent School District has already canceled all activities, athletics and events after 2 p.m. today and over the weekend and has canceled school on Monday, which was supposed to be the first day. It will make a decision about whether to cancel school Tuesday by Sunday at noon. Fort Bend ISD is also closed Friday and Monday, and Katy, Aldine, Spring Branch, Pasadena, Alief, Spring, Pearland and Dickinson ISD are also closed Friday.
Dickinson, in fact, is one of the cities closest to Houston undergoing voluntary evacuation. Galveston's Bolivar Peninsula is also under voluntary evacuation.
Space City Weather's meteorologist Eric Berger noted that predicting the storm's path from Sunday through Wednesday is tricky, and it's too soon to know whether the impact in Houston will be "pretty bad or really, really bad," as he put it. He offered three scenarios for how Harvey will go down: The two most likely, he wrote, are that Harvey either stalls over the Texas coast, heads back into the Gulf and toward southwestern Louisiana, dumping 5 to 25 inches on Houston in the meantime; or, it hangs out in Corpus Christi and the Valley until Sunday or Monday, then heads up the U.S. 59 corridor on its way to Louisiana, dumping 10 to 25 inches of rain on Houston on its way. Less likely, Berger said, is that Houston gets maybe 5 to 10 inches and calls it a day because Harvey got burnt out far down south before getting here.
Stay tuned in the meantime for the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center—and bring those potted plants inside while you wait.