HOUSTON - As of Thursday, November 30th, 2017, the hurricane season concludes. It lasts most of the year and begins again on June 1st, 2018. How will you prepare differently next year?
Harvey is a name this city will never forget, as it was the first serious tropical system to slam Houston since Hurricane Ike in 2008 and impacted everybody in one way or another. I certainly will never forget what may have been the biggest flood of my career. While Ike's impacts were mostly wind, Harvey's were mostly water. An unbelievable and inconceivable 35"-65" of rain fell in southeast Texas, (with maximums in Friendswood @ Mary's Creek at 56" and the Beaumont area saw the upper end of that 60"+ range.) Until this season, we had enjoyed nearly a decade of relative serenity, free from significant tropical systems in Houston. First, let's explore a brief summary of the season.
The 2017 Hurricane Season stats
- Three times the major hurricanes than normal (Cat 3 or higher)
- We saw 6! The normal total of 2.
- 10 hurricanes
- That's 154% more than the normal of 6.5
- (Don't ask me how you get a half a hurricane. That's stats for ya!)
- 17 named storms (tropical storm strength or greater)
- 142% more than the normal of 12
What we learned for next year
- For the next hurricane, plan to stay home for a week!
- Have enough groceries to avoid the 4 hour lines. Some grocery stores offered what I see as a, "community service". That is, they opened during the critical four days after the flood when roads were still largely impassible. This was at the sacrifice of their employees, who went above and beyond.
- So many people needed stuff (since corner pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens remained closed for days) that lines were 4-5hrs long!
- Diapers, drinking water (and wine) were top items shoppers aimed to buy
- Park at higher ground
- It goes unsaid that you should never drive through flood water, as we saw even the, "luxury SUV's" -- marketed as able to face anything -- got submerged and stalled-out. #InsuranceClaim!
- Overall, around a million personal vehicles were totaled due to flooding in their parking spot
- If you live in a low area, find an elevated parking garage and Uber it back home. It's worth it. Trust me.
- Buy FEMA flood insurance
- 80% of homeowners flooded by Harvey were not covered. Tragic.
- Coverage requires a yearly payment (on average) of around $700.
- A basic homeowners policy does not coverage damage caused by rising waters from outside the home.
- This is a steep fee for something which may not happen while you own the home, but it's just one of those costs that shouldn't be skipped.
- If you don't have a canoe or fishing boat on your property, consider buying an inflatable raft to store away with your supplies, in case the unthinkable: you have to paddle of the neighborhood to higher ground. (Never try this in moving flood water!) Many residents waited for the better part of a week, long after the sun came out, before boats came to their rescue -- many in suffering serious peril all the while.
What Harvey Means for Future Hurricane Seasons
Right now NOAA is reassessing its, "potential rainfall" maps in Texas to determine more accurately who is most likely to get the kind of rain that can lead to major flooding. The fact that so many who were not placed in FEMA 100 year-flood plain, but still got wet, has forced pressure on FEMA to reassess their maps -- something they haven't done in half a century.
These updated NOAA rainfall data maps are under scientific peer review right now. (The author is a peer reviewer on this NOAA project -- and I hope to help insure its accuracy for your benefit in my mission to Stand for Houston). NOAA's final report will then be submitted to FEMA early next year to be used along with the local expertise of engineers and flood experts, to draw a new 100-year flood plain map that is aiming to be more accurate.
An inevitable expansion of the 100 year flood plain means thousands of Houston homeowners will soon learn their flood insurance premiums are double or triple what they're paying now. This is bad news but it's the reality we face. The last major update of the FEMA flood plain maps were drawn in the 1960s and are considered grossly under-estimated based on several factors: a limited data-set during a much drier time in history, over 50 years of urban development and a lack of computer-assistance in modeling regional flood potential.
Those who live closest to the newfound flood-hazard zone may be required by their mortgage lenders to carry flood insurance, when before it was optional. Thankfully (for your planning purposes) FEMA won't complete this update for up to five years so you won't be stuck with a higher bill until then. But, it's another way Harvey's wrath has yet to be fully realized.
An expanded FEMA 100-year flood plain also means fewer profits for property developers. More money will be spent constructing drainage systems (canals/retention ponds) and consequently they'll likely not be able to fit as many homes on a track of land being building out. For the future homeowner, this will mean smaller backyards as homes will be built even closer to each other than before, so builders can meet their investor expectations.
A single hurricane can change a lot of things. See you on the news side!
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