Here's what you need to know about Hurricane Harvey

As Hurricane Harvey barrels toward the Texas coast, Texans are bracing for extreme flooding and potential damage to their communities. Harvey is currently a Category 1 hurricane, with winds around 80 miles per hour — but it could become nearly a Category 4 hurricane, with winds of 125 miles per hour, by the time it makes landfall this weekend. 

A hurricane hasn't hit Texas soil since 2008, and the coastal region's surging population and booming oil industry — coupled with past weather events — are raising concerns that the state is unprepared. Here's what you need to know: 

What's happened so far 

Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties and has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety's State Operations Center to up its readiness level before Harvey hits. Abbott has also announced he's getting briefed on the hurricane at the center on Friday morning. 

Some Texans along the coast have been asked to move inland or seek higher ground ahead of this weekend; on South Padre Island, people are loading up on water and filling sandbags to protect vulnerable homes and businesses.

The city of Port Aransas issued a mandatory evacuation Thursday, and so did Calhoun County — a strip of land along the coast that more than 20,000 people call home. Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi issued one of their own on Wednesday, and the University of Houston has announced it's closing campus for the weekend. The cities of Galveston and Corpus Christi called for voluntary evacuations Thursday afternoon. 

School districts in Houston are considering canceling the first day of classes Monday, and New Braunfels ISD just announced it was delaying its first day of school due to Harvey. 

Some are already comparing Harvey to Allison, a tropical storm in 2001 whose heavy and prolonged rainfall made for one of the most expensive and deadly weather events in recent Southeast Texas history.

Is the Texas coast ready?

The Texas Tribune and ProPublica asked this same question for a major investigative project last year — and found some uncomfortable answers. Houston, the largest city in the state, is seriously ill-prepared. 

If a hurricane hits the thousands of storage tanks — ones that hold the world's largest concentrations of oil, gases and chemicals — that line the Houston Ship Channel just right, more than 25 feet of water could shoot up the channel. And if even one tank ruptured because of it, hundreds of thousands of people could be impacted.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, gushing floods caused one Houston Ship Channel refinery’s oil tank to rupture — and sent oil into more than 1,700 homes a mile away. The Houston area has schools and neighborhoods that are less than a mile from large refineries and oil storage terminals.

On top of those Ship Channel fears, unchecked development has continued in Houston, creating economic success for some — but upping the flood risk for everyone. 

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush asked local and state leaders in June to urge the Trump administration to fund a coastal barrier system for Texas. Protecting the state’s coast was his agency’s no. 1 priority this year, he said, adding, “We are just as vulnerable to a major storm today as we were in 2008 — and that’s bad news.”

Add this to the mix

Southeast Texas' booming population, paired with mandatory evacuations, could bring the state back to the Hurricane Rita and Ike days, when traffic jams filled some of Texas' busiest highways as people sought safer ground. It's possible that another traffic nightmare could precede what's in store this weekend, especially as people along the coast head up to Dallas, Austin or San Antonio.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Texas Department of Transportation said it hadn't yet turned some highways in the state into one-way roads to speed evacuations, but officials added that they were encouraging people to fill up gas tanks in case local officials began mandatory clearings. 

How Texans are reacting so far 

Some of you have shared your experience with past hurricanes and tropical storms on Twitter. @cottagelmagin said, "I remember Alicia... no power for 2 weeks, massive tree cleanup and miserable humidity." Another user, @Comeonpurpletx, said, "Alicia destroyed my house; Ike flooded family's; worried about flooding here in Clear Lake w/ Harvey." @TheMermaidAg: "Ike hit 2 weeks into my freshman year at A&M Galveston. We evacuated and spent the semester in College Station during recovery." And state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, weighed in, too: "I remember 1 hurricane when we opened the school gym 4 pple to stay in. My dad was principal & the school was all there was." 

Tweet us your experiences and tell us how you're preparing for Harvey this weekend with #MyTexasTake. Stay safe this weekend. 

Take this information with you into the weekend 

Shannon Najmabadi contributed to this report. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/08/24/hurricane-harvey/.

 

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