My Hurricane Harvey Blog
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law
Note: I will use this page to update what is happening to us in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. I first did this during Hurricane Rita, and then again during Hurricane Ike. Those blog entries are set out below. I like the blog idea because it allows friends and relatives across the U.S. to find out the latest even if they can't get a phone call through. And it preserves real time memories for later study.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017:
On Tuesday, the TV news began playing up what would become Hurricane Harvey. At the time, it was expected to hit in Mexico, and they weren't even sure it would make it to hurricane force winds. It was expected to blow apart quickly, but it might bring some rain to Houston.
Something about the 10:00 pm reporting caught my attention. It had been a long time since Houston had had a hurricane, and I decided to get my hurricane supplies on Wednesday morning before panic hit. I made sure both Maria and I had plenty of gas and planned to top off my tank as the storm grew closer, depending on how the news media played this seemingly unlikely hit.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017:
The TV news started showing cones of possible paths, and some of them included Houston. There were also hints that the storm might hit in Corpus Christi instead of Mexico. Harvey was still not a hurricane.
Around 11 am I headed out to get my hurricane preparations in order. I had a $10.00 reward coupon from Office Depot, so I swung by there and picked up a rain poncho to keep in the car. I then went to Academy to wander the camping department. I picked up another three pack of the little propane containers for a cooktop stove I have. I looked for some Royal Oak lump charcoal for my Big Green Egg, but they only had charcoal briquettes. Because the storm preparation was still mostly hypothetical in my mind, I passed on the briquettes. I did buy a small bag of jerky on the way out.
Next, I headed to Costco. My idea that I was beating the crowds was immediately called into question by the chaotic parking lot. I parked far away from the entrance and made my was inside. I was going to have a quick lunch there, but the lines were long, and I decided to wait till later. I grabbed a cart and headed for the batteries department. Even though Maria thinks I have more than enough batteries, I grabbed the big packs of Duracell D, C, AA, AAA and nine volt batteries. Better safe than sorry. Next, I got some crackers and cheddar cheese. I also got a container of mixed nuts. I couldn't find any biscotti. The batteries had been my main mission, but I decided to go up and down the food lanes to see if something came to my attention.
I got green beans, Wolf's chili. some Bush Baked Beans with bourbon sauce, a bag of corn chips and a case of Ozarka Spring water. I only purchased stuff we would eat in the absence of a hurricane. Except that Maria makes much better chili than anything I have ever had out of a can.
As I was returning to the car, the skies opened up and I got thoroughly soaked with rain. Ugh. Once in the car I had to plot a strange route out of the parking lot because my usual exit was blocked by people in line to get gas. Panic had arrived.
After work, Maria and I decided to go to Kroger for a couple of last minute items. The water aisle was wiped out. We grabbed a bad of Starbucks House Blend in the whole bean and a bag of Community Coffee that was already ground in case we lose power. And we completed the main reason for the trip: we picked up twelve bottles of wine so we could get the 20% off a case sale that started Wednesday. Always keep your priorities straight.
Thursday, August 24, 2017:
Not much to report on. The TV media revised their projected paths, which put Houston more likely to get major rains from the storm. We stayed out of the stores, so didn't have to put up with the crowds. I kept racking my brain to see if I had forgotten some area of storm prep, but couldn't think of anything.
I had a court hearing Thursday afternoon, and it went well. I had no problems getting to and from the Courthouse, so I was surprised when Bubba told me around 4 pm that he had been out and the freeways and streets were crazy. Still only that brief shower on Wednesday that managed to soak me at Costco. However, most people in the building where I work decided to stay home on Friday and spend Thrusday night trying to get supplies.
My plan since Harvey appeared headed for Texas was to top off my gas tank on the way home Thursday. Bubba had told me that the gas stations were pure chaos, so my back up plan was to get up at 2 am and find a station if my regular one was backed up. When I pulled up to the station there were cars at every pump and a lady from the inside store was doing a great job directing traffic. She refused to let anyone cut in, and was busy running back and forth within the statiion to keep things orderly. I got in quickly and filled up. I tipped her a couple of dollars and told her I appreciated the great job she was doing in keeping things moving in an orderly fashion.
I told Maria we should go out to dinner, not knowing how much longer restaurats would stay open. I suggested we get something that we could not duplicate easily at home and we settled on a great Thai meal. We drove by Kroger, and the parking lot was totally full.
Friday, August 25, 2017:
We have friends staying with us while they get their floors refinished. I had hoped to have a leisurely breakfast with them, but the news reports had taken a more ominous turn on Thursday night, and Hurricane Harvey had to be taken seriously. A landfall near Corpus Christi now seemed certain, and a giganticly wide rain band was forcast. One that would include Houston on its outer limits.
I decided to get to work early Friday, finish up some projects and back my briefcase for work to do over the weekend, and on Monday if we were rained in. On the drive to the office I passed two Whole Foods and one Kroger. The parking lots were packed. I also passed a Trader Joe's, and the cars were waiting on the street to get in to that lot. Still no rain in Houston. At work, the building was mostly empty. Bubba and I were there alone for most of the morning, but two other lawyers showed up later. I finished up a little after noon, and headed to the house.
It rained a little on Friday evening, but nothing special. The Hurricane was predicted to make landfall in Rockport, which is closer to Houston than Corpus Christi is, but it was "only" a Category One storm as it approached.
We watched a wonderful French move called La Vache and had a nice evening. Rain totals for Friday were 1.3 inches in my backyard.
Saturday, August 26, 2017:
Things took a decided turn for the worse on Saturday. Harvey was up to a Category Four hurricane, and we could get no TV reports from Corpus Christi or Rockport. Between 6 am and 8 am we got 1.9 inches of rain. Yikes. But then we got inbetween rain bands and had only two tenths of an inch of rain from 8 am to 11:30 am. Everybody was glued to the TV, and it was clear this was going to be a bad storm for Rockport, and possible a bad rain event for Houston.
I had a meeting of the Oak Forrest Amateur Radio Club scheduled for Saturday morning, but that meeting was wisely cancelled. Still, several of us were on the repeater the club uses and were passing on weather conditions. Even though no big rain events had happened yet, there was something in the air that things could rapidly go bad due to the bayous flooding.
For those of you who don't know, Houston is sometimes referred to as the Bayou City because of the large number of bayous that come through the city. The bayou system is the main way water falling in Houston is directed to Galveston, and the Gulf of Mexico. The bayou system can handle a lot of water, but when the rain comes down at a two inch per hour rate, or continues at an inch an hour for several hours, the bayous can get overwhelmed and flood their banks. This, in turn, causes house flooding. So the level of the bayous is a major concern, and there are so many that one bayou cound be out of its banks and the rest could be doing fine.
Harvey stalled on Saturday. That meant that the rain bands extending out on the dirty side of the storm could continue to pour rain in one spot, and fill up the bayous. Which is exactly what happened.
As I said, we got 1.9 inches between 6 and 8 on Saturday morning. Then we got .2 inches from 8 to 11:30. Then 2.9 inches from 11:30 am to 11 pm, but there was a clear time when we went for a walk in the neighborhood without getting a single drop of rain. Luna was relieved to get out, no pun intended.
We watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Saturday afternoon, and had a great time. During a lull we grilled some sausage and fixed dinner. The rains resumed as we began eating and continued through a viewing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Lightning and thunder were rampant.
From 11:30 pm to 1:30 am we got 1.7 inches of rain. From 1:30 am to 5 am we got another 2.1 inches. I always start the rain day at 6 am, so I checked the gauge then and between 5 am and 6 am we got an astonishing 3.5 inches. Wow.
Sunday, August 27, 2017:
6:53 am: I just heard two power transformers blow. Last I heard only 50,000 CenterPoint customers were without electricity. We have had little wind, so trees have not downed many power lines. However, I fear a cascading event if transformers start to blow, and those two booms were too close for comfort. If this blog stops abruptly, loss of electricity is the most likely cause.
I turned on the ham radio at six and talked to several hams around Houston. One had ten inches of rain in his house and had disconnected the electricity at the fuse box because the water was so high. Another had watched the water come up to the front door, but stop in time. However, his garage had two inches of water because it sat lower than the house does.
8:12 am: No rain to speak of since 6 am. It is coming down, but very lightly. The gutters are full, but I can still see the curbs. Hope this respite is general across Houston.
9:07 am: The rain gauges registered 1.7 inches between 6 am and 9 am. Streets here are not flooded, but everywhere around us is. Almost all freeways are closed. Almost everyone who contacts me has water in their house. Not sure how long this will continue because Harvey is still stalled.
7:19 pm: Today there was rain, but not like Saturday. Between 6 and 9 am we got 1.7 inches. Between 9 am and noon we got 1.0 inches. From noon to 3 we got .3 inches. From 3 to 7 pm we got .6 inches.
We had some long stretches without rain today. This afternoon, Maria and I walked to Studemont at White Oak Bayou. The bridge was almost entirelly under water, with only the guardrail on one side showing. Also, you could see the water rising even as we watched. White Oak Bayou was farther out of its banks than I have ever seen.
At noon the 145.17 repeater went off the air due to a power failure. Fortunately, due to the massive repeater network. other repeaters were available to handle the load, so hams were not off the air.
10:17 pm: Rain has been coming down in torrents since about 8:30 pm. From 7 pm to 10 pm we got 2.4 inches, with most of it coming from 8:30 to 10 pm. Rain is continuing without respite. Houston can't catch a break. Don't know how long this rain band will last, but surely it has wiped out all the afternoon progress in getting the bayous down.
Sonday, August 28, 2017:
12:03 pm: Rain continues steadily. From 6 am to 8 am we got .4 inches and from 8 am to noon we got another 1.5 inches. It seems like it has been raining all morning, but "only" 1.9 inches in four hours would normally not slow Houston down. The problem is that it has not stopped raining since Friday night, and the bayous have not had time to recover. Now, to top it off, the Harris County Flood District (?) is releasing water from some lakes into the bayous, which means that they cannot go down, and probably will rise.
There is also the issue of whether the City will issue a boil water advisory, or even turn off the water. Rumors of this have swirled around the internet. Channel 11 took pains to say the rumors were unfounded based on assurances from Mayor Turner. However, in a press conference today Mayor Turner confirmed that at least one of the treatment plants was under water. He assured everyone that pumps were being put into place to pump out the water, but it is not clear what will happen if that effort is unsuccessful. Also, I have not been able to discover what effect on the City in general would come from the shutting down of one of the water treatment plants. It appears, from the City's DWO (Drinking Water Operations) website, there are three DWO surface water pruification plants for Houston. The Associated Press reports that the plant in question is the Northeast Water Purification Plant.
5:47 pm: We lost phone and internet service this afternoon. I figured that would be it until the storm passed, but ATT got the service back in a few short hours. Even in the rain. Which has not stopped.
Between noon and 2:30 pm we got 1.3 inches of rain and between 2:30 and 4 pm we got 1.1 inches. And it is still raining. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem as strong as yesterday, and the amounts are lower. Friday we had 1.3 inches as the storm started. Saturday we had 12.3 inches. Sunday we had 9.3 inches. And, so far today, we have had 4.3 inches through 4 pm. My understanding is that most of the bayous are down, except were the Flood District is doing controlled releases from lakes and causing levels to rise again.
I have heard from more friends with water in their houses, but also from friends without flooding. NBC is reporting that Harvey is expected to make a third landfall before it finally stays inland. More reports later.
10:27 pm: Rain continues at a steady pace. We had .9 inches between 6 and 8 pm and 1.6 inches between 8 and 10:15 pm. Total so far today is 7.7 inches.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017:
8:26 am: Overnight it continued to rain. From 10:15 to 3:30 am we got 1,4 inches. Between 3:30 am and 6 am we got .6 inches. That made the grand total for Monday 9.7 inches. That is almost half an inch more than the total for Sunday. It seemed like it rained all day, without a break. The only good thing was that I heard one weathercast on 740 AM radio that the rain may begin to taper off by noon Tuesday due to the movement of the storm center.
Between 6 am and 8 am today we got .3 inches of rain. That was a little less than during the same period yesterday. Hope the trend continues.
The big news today is the controlled releases from the reservoirs. Nothing yet about the condition of the Northeast Water Purification Plant and how they are dealing with the fact that it is underwater. I know they were planning to move pumps in there, but I have not heard anything lately on this. My understanding is that if the plant is shut down, there could be a backflow into the lines of untreated water. That water might look clear, but it would most likely be contaminated and extremely dangerous to drink unless boiled or filtered with a chemical filter like campers use.
The National Weather Service posts the flood level of White Oak Bayou, but there has been no updating of the data since 5:30 am on Sunday. At that time the level was 39.54 feet, with flood level being listed as 32 feet. I cannot figure out where along White Oak Bayou the reading is taken. I have heard reports that levels fell some on Monday. Unfortunately, I also heard that the releases from Addicks Reservoir might bleed over into White Oak Bayou from Buffalo Bayou. At least they weren't certain of that.
4:45 pm: Rain has mostly stopped. I am hoping this thing is over. Rembmber that between 6 am and 8 am we got .3 inches. Between 8 and 10 am we got another .3 inches. Between 10 am and noon we got .7 inches. Between noon and 2 pm we got .2 inches. Between 2 pm and 4 pm we got .1 inches. Definitely the right trend.
Although we have a daily subscription to the Houston Chronicle, we have not received the paper since Friday. However, the online version has a story about the Northeast Water Purification Plant. The story confirmed that the station is under water. That is apparently not a problem until and filter becomes clogged or some other repair is required that needs to be made above water. The story reported that plans were underway to pump the station dry, but there was no indication that success was likely. It was pointed out that several times in the past the Northeast plant had been shut down, and there was enough surplus capacity in the other stations to temporarily make up for the deficit. Whether that temporary fix can continue until the station emerges from the depths is unclear.
5:48 pm: Maria got an alert on her phone at 5:48 pm. It said, "Sunshine spotted in Katy!"
Wednesday, August 30, 2017:
7:28 am: Today there was barely a trace of rain in the gauges overnight. That means that the total rainfall from Friday through Tuesday was 34.2 inches. Yesterday we drove around and were able to drive all the way to my law office at Alabama and Mercer Street with no problems. Fortunately, there was no rain damage at the office. We saw that the parking lots for two Whole Foods and one Kroger were packed. The friends staying with us were able to get to the Kroger on 11th and buy some steaks, which I fixed on my Big Green Egg. There was a really strong wind blowing, which made it hard to get the BGE to the 650 degrees I prefer for steaks. Still, the steaks, baked potatoes, rose wine and peach cobbler made a fitting celebration to surviving Harvey. My thoughts go out to all those who lost their homes or had water in their houses. This was an unprecedented storm, and one the likes of which I hope to never experience again.