Good-bye Har­vey, Hello Irma!

Cape Bre­ton Weather

The Victoria Standard - - Weather - BILL DANIELSON

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)

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