27 August 2017
Read These Two Essays to Really Understand What Happened In Houston Last Night
Posted by Dan Satterfield
When you work as a meteorologist or a reporter, you accept that there will be times when your sleep, hunger, and comfort come far behind the importance of serving the public. Last night was one of those moments for those at the NWS in Houston, and the reporters/meteorologists at Houston TV stations. At one point the NWS office had 4 tornado warnings and at least as many Flash Flood Emergency warnings posted simultaneously. A Flash Flood Emergency is pretty much the top warning the NWS can issue. It means thousands of people are in imminent danger. They were.
KHOU-TV was flooded during the event and knocked off the air, but that did not stop them from covering the story and this piece tells that story.
A special hat tip is in order for Meteorologist Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood District. He posted updated rainfall totals and road reports from their observation network that were vital to tracking the rapidly rising waters.
The second good read is from last year, and it’s eerily prescient of what happened in Houston last night and is happening now. ProPublica did an in-depth piece on the lack of preparedness for just such an event in Houston. The lack of zoning in the city also likely played a role in this catastrophe. It’s not like no one told them that they had big trouble coming, but did they listen? I’m not talking about the forecasts from the last 4 days. Yes, most folks listened to those warnings, but their government officials ignored the decades of warnings from urban planners, hydrologists, meteorologists and climatologists. Many of these officials arrogantly ignored them and called them a hoax or scaremongering in some cases. This is especially true on a state level.
I mentioned a book by Tom Nichols called The Death of Expertise in a previous blog post, and what happened in Houston is a good example of what Nichols was talking about. The expert urban planners and hydrologists were right a decade ago, and the weather experts were right 5 days ago, and last night.
I guess that’s where we are now.
This is not over though. Harvey is drifting back to the Gulf and model guidance just in Sunday afternoon shows a foot of rain over parts of SE Texas again tonight. Oh, and a tropical depression is forming off the coast of Georgia. You will hear about that later this evening…
Note that a lot of the infrastructure was build during the age of recommendations of making concrete dictches to carry the water away (1950 and 1960). Since about 2000 developments have required making retention ponds for storm water. However by that time a lot of the city was built up already. In earlier times Houston build the Addicks and Barker reservoirs as essentially giant retention ponds on Buffalo Bayou after floods in the 1920s during the 1930s. However since the 1970s development has gone around the reservoirs to the west. Houston however is extremely flat the highest elevations are freeway overpasses. The lack of zoning did not preclude the retention pond requirements however. In Houston the residential use restrictions are handled thru deed restrictions, i.e. the developer puts the restrictions on the land and then sells it as restricted. A home owners association files suits if need be to enforce the restrictions and the city helps in that.
Great essay! Thanks for sharing. I’m writer and currently I make a research paper about natural disasters. And it’s scary when government officials ignored the decades of warnings. I will written about it in my work too. If you want my research will be published at https://paperwritingonline.com/