The tropical mega-storm Harvey, predicted to be the first major hurricane to hit the state in 12 years and taking aim at the heart of nation’s oil refining industry, has strengthened to a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph, making it a “major” hurricane.
The storm which was positioned just 45 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, is expected to be the worst to hit the state in nearly two decades.
Residents staying in the area frantically stocked up on food, water and gas, while others heading out of the storm’s path boarded up windows and doors of their homes and businesses.
Airlines cancelled flights, schools were shuttered while concerts and other planned events in Houston and coastal cities were postponed.
Even after the hurricane hits the coast, its effects will linger for days, with heavy rainfall through next week estimated to be as high as 40 inches in some areas.
The storm is expected to hit middle Texas coast.
After that, Harvey will likely stall over the state, which could lead to catastrophic flooding.
In a news conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is “expecting a lot of rain, not too much wind. Let’s assume there will be a lot of rain. The rain could come out of the bayou and overcome our capabilities”.
Harvey is the first natural disaster faced by the Trump administration.
President Trump on Friday tweeted that he had spoken with the governors of Texas and Louisiana and was “here to assist as needed”.
He might issue a major disaster declaration before Hurricane Harvey makes landfall later Friday in Texas, the White House homeland security adviser said on Friday.
Thomas Bossert, the homeland security adviser, said on Friday that Texas Governor Gregg Abbott requested the disaster declaration earlier Friday, and that the request is currently “being contemplated”.
The declaration would allow federal funds to begin to flow to state and local efforts in Texas, and previous presidents have made disaster declarations ahead of major storms.
Harvey is already starting to flood Galveston. Reports indicate that storm surge has raised water levels by about three feet.
Officials in Galveston County have said there are no mandatory evacuation orders anywhere in the county, but Galveston residents “west of the seawall” have been advised to evacuate.
A tropical storm wind warning has been issued for much of southeast Texas, including Houston and Galveston.
A Flash Flood Watch is in effect for most of southeast Texas through Monday morning.
After landfall, the moisture from Harvey is expected to bring widespread heavy rain and flooding to southeast Texas starting Friday and continuing through the weekend.
Over 25-35 inches of rain is possible across parts of southeast Texas. Major flooding is likely. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, could receive 10 to 20 inches of rain from the storm, depending on exactly where it tracks – with the heaviest moving in on Saturday or Sunday and then continuing into early next week.
Matt Lanza, a meteorologist based in Houston, said 20 inches would be “devastating” for the city, depending where it fell.
A worst case scenario, Lanza said, would be for this amount of rain to fall just northwest of downtown as “all that water has to push through the Bayou networks across the city into Galveston Bay”.
Especially late this weekend and into early next, areas of western and southern Louisiana could also be hard hit with double-digit rainfall totals.
The Hurricane Center currently predicts 6 to 10 feet of water – above normally dry land – inundating coastal areas immediately to the east and north of the landfall location.
That amount is based on the assumption that Harvey makes landfall as a Category 3 hurricane.
But the surge could be even higher (or lower) if the storm is stronger (or weaker) and will be adjusted as the forecast evolves. The timing of normal astronomical tides is a factor. If the highest storm surge arrives at or near high tide, the total “storm tide” will be maximised.
As the timing of landfall is pinned down, forecasts of the storm tide timing and depth will be improved as well.
Meanwhile, Oil and gas companies scrambled Thursday to prepare for Hurricane Harvey, which developed so quickly in the Gulf of Mexico that many of them didn’t have time to respond.
Royal Dutch Shell shut down and evacuated its 22-well Perdido oil and gas hub, the deepest floating oil platform in the world, the company said.
Other major companies, including ExxonMobil and Anadarko, also began scaling back production.
The Gulf produces about 17 per cent of all US crude oil output and nearly half of the country’s refining capacity, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Oil analysts predict if Harvey makes landfall as a Category 3 storm, it could take as long as three weeks for refineries in its path to resume normal operations.