Good-bye Harvey, Hello Irma!
Cape Breton Weather
I imagine your boots are filled with stories of Hurricane Harvey. Even so, I’m going to overflow them a bit more. I’d feel remiss in not commenting on this monster rainmaker, even though its devastation happened 3,000 kilometres away, in a foreign country (Texas). So bear with me. Besides, the story ends up back in Cape Breton, even though Harvey didn’t.
Several days before it began raining in Houston, I heard weather forecasters predicting accumulations of up to 1,000 millimetres. “No way that’s going to happen!“I shouted at my radio. “1000 millimetres? That’s 10 centimeters. No, wait – it’s 100 centimetres! One whole metre!”
And as we know, the total rainfall actually exceeded 1,000 mm at a number of locales around Houston. These numbers are so large I’ve abandoned those tiny little millimetre units, which are fine for measuring wee amounts of dew, drizzle and rain. For the Texas-sized accumulations that Harvey wrought, I’ve gone retro, to those antediluvian units called feet and inches, which scale better with Houston’s rain totals.
So, Harvey delivered up to four feet, four inches of rain to the Houston area (all right: 1318 mm, if you insist), which set an all-time, single-storm rainfall record for the lower 48 States. Even more impressive is the total volume of water Harvey delivered, which was equivalent to nineteen times the daily discharge of the Mississippi River, a million gallons for every one of Texas’s 27 million residents. Climatologists declare that no other North American storm has delivered anywhere near this volume of rain.
However, other localities worldwide have endured even greater rainfall extremes. A village with the unfortunate name of Fok-fok, on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, holds the world’s 24-hour rainfall record at 6 feet, and its neighbour, Cratère Commerson, measured 13 feet of rain over a 3-day period. The world’s one-year rainfall record, set back in 1860 and still standing, belongs to Cherrapunji, India, at 87 feet. However, all these sites are located in mountains, where upslope winds enhance rainfall totals. They also lie within monsoon wind regimes that cause winter months to be dry, but summer months to be relentlessly rainy. So when it rains in these places, colossal rainfalls are more or less a routine fact of life. In Houston, however, Harvey produced 13 times the normal August rainfall in just four days, more rain than the city normally sees in an entire year. The uniqueness of this deluge, coupled with Houston’s large population, flat topography and obsolete drainage infrastructure, maximized human hardship and damage to property.
Did climate change contribute to Harvey’s destructiveness? Surely, it did. In previous columns, I’ve written about warming oceans, rising sea level (it’s seven inches higher in Houston than thirty years ago), warming atmosphere, and loopier jet streams. All are products of global warming, and all contributed to making Harvey the event it became. In coming months, climate scientists will sort out how great a role each of these factors played. Meanwhile, it’s hard to miss the irony that Harvey devastated the metropolis known as “petro-metro”, where countless refineries, including those of Exxon-mobil (for decades a major climate-change denier), produce the fossil fuels that accelerate global warming.
Now back to Cape Breton. Shortly after the onset of Harvey’s epic rains, Sydney’s Servicom Call Centre received a call from GM’S Onstar system, on behalf of the American Red Cross, asking for assistance in handling the overflow of calls from Houston residents in distress. Call Centre management, staff, and volunteers, perhaps thinking of last October’s Thanksgiving Day flood, quickly took up the challenge. For days, they worked overtime hours listening compassionately to Houstonians’ situations and dispensing information and encouragement as well as words – and tears – of consolation.
At press time, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida after inflicting a swath destruction across the Caribbean. Harvey’s legacy still fresh in their minds, Floridians dived into hurricane preparation mode several days before Irma’s expected landfall. And also days ahead, Sydney’s Servicom Call Centre began assisting those in need, by taking calls on everything from guidance on hurricane preparation to weather and evacuation road conditions.
The distress calls would begin with Irma’s landfall.
Although Cape Breton is thousands of kilometres distant from Houston and Miami, Cape Bretoners were there helping Texans and Floridians through both disasters from the other end of the phone line.
Hurricane Harvey bears down on the Texas coast on the morning of August 25, 2017. (NASA Image)