BEYOND THE STORM — By the numbers: When all the damage is counted, just how bad was Hurricane Harvey?

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Hurricane Harvey was a storm that affected countless people, devastated numerous homes and cost billions of dollars.

It was a Category 4 storm that made landfall twice in Texas and once in Louisiana, each time weaker than the last. However, Harvey was a storm system that dropped more rainfall than any other system in U.S. history.

By the numbers

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According to data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service, Hurricane Harvey was the wettest cyclone in U.S. history with a recorded 60.58 inches of rainfall in Nederland, Texas.

The previous record in the continental United States was also in Texas in Medina in 1978. Tropical Storm Amelia brought a recorded 48 inches of rain.

It’s telling that the wettest cyclone for the United States as a whole was in Hawaii, a string of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean — nowhere close to the massive landmass that is the continental U.S.

Hurricane Hiki held the previous record for 52 inches of rainfall recorded at Kanalohuluhulu Ranger Station. The record for Harvey was set near Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland.

According to National Centers for Environmental Information and NOAA, more than 30 inches of rainfall fell on 6.9 million people while 1.25 million experienced over 45 inches and 11,000 people (including many in Southeast Texas) had over 50 inches based on seven-day rainfall totals ending Aug. 31.

The extreme rainfall caused massive flooding that displaced over 30,000 people and damaged or destroyed over 200,000 homes and businesses, according to data from NCEI’s U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2018) report.

NCEI and NOAA reported Hurricane Harvey as having a CPI-adjusted estimated cost of $125 billion.

What about Port Arthur?

“We do not have a fixed cost for Harvey damage at this time. Assessments and contracting are still in process,” Risa Carpenter, public information officer, said. “It will be a while before a firm, stable cost will be presented.”

However, thanks to a March 13 City Council presentation from city manager assistant Rebecca Underhill, residents may at least have a better idea of some of the financial toll Harvey has taken on the city.

According to Underhill’s “Impact on the City Budget” report, the city of Port Arthur has spent to date $22,176,963 for Tropical Storm Harvey recovery. The funds have come from a variety of sources including FEMA, state, city and insurance.

Debris removal has taken the lion’s share of recovery funds so far, with $12,024,103 spent from FEMA and state sources.

The cost to date to replace damaged vehicles and equipment has been $4,950,240. This has been funded in part through lease-purchase debt and the remainder will be funded through city funds and insurance proceeds.

A lost population

How many people Port Arthur had lost during and after the flood — due to home, weather or the simple inclination to leave — is a figure that is even harder to determine at this point.

The United States Census Bureau will not have a population number for the July 2017 to July 2018 period until next year. Other governmental bodies and organizations like the Jefferson County Appraisal District, U.S. Postal Service and FEMA do not have those numbers at all.

This lack of firm data includes the city of Port Arthur.

“The population count is a Census task,” Carpenter said. “Folks were not required to check in or out before, during or after the flooding; so, there isn’t a way to have a firm number.”

Carpenter admitted that even after a Census number had been attained by the bureau, other factors could contribute to “someone’s desire to leave the area.”

Federally assisted

According to an email response from FEMA, FEMA had approved 32,192 registration applications for Individual Assistance in Jefferson County. Of those, 592 had received Direct Housing, which is essentially a manufactured housing unit or a travel trailer.

By the middle of March, there were 715 households in FEMA-funded hotels and 3,749 Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans — the majority granted to homeowners and renters.

According to FEMA’s response, they have had 36,941 National Flood Insurance Program claims.

College stats

School enrollment, predictably, took a hit.

Lamar State College Port Arthur saw its numbers go down between the spring semesters of 2017 and 2018: 2,072 to 1,981. This was after the college had experienced a steady increase in enrollment the past few years.

“We definitely saw a small decrease in enrollment due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and the floods in and around Port Arthur,” Gerry Dickert, public information coordinator, said. “The impact for many of our students was devastating.”

Dickert said the enrollment loss could have been much worse, though.

“One of the most impressive things that happened after the storm was the support of our community for our students. Our industrial partners became the backbone of that support,” he said. “We received money and supplies to aid our students in their efforts to return to school. That really helped minimize the impact on our enrollment.”

Lamar University in Beaumont likewise saw a reduction from its Spring 2017 to Spring 2018 enrollment: 14,103 to 13,139.

“Our growth was slowed in the fall of 2017 due in large part to Hurricane Harvey’s
impact,” Daniel McLemore, associate director of marketing communications, said. “The timing of the storm’s landfall was a big factor as it was right at the beginning of the fall semester.”

Is Harvey a harbinger of things to come?

Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service Roger Erickson said it is hard to say whether Harvey is a sign of things to come.

Erickson was skeptical of whether or not climate change had contributed to more storm systems like Harvey because there are so many factors that go into forming a storm like Harvey.

“I will say we are seeing storms that are causing large amounts of damage,” Erickson said. “However, I think just the fact that people within miles of the coastline have been expanding over the years has brought more attention to it.”

Erickson contends that since more people are living near the water, there are more people that are affected by the storms that make landfall. Additionally, there is more news coverage of their collective plight.

“Compare that to the Port Arthur region in the ’60s and you have a very different situation than it is now,” Erickson said. “For a storm to make landfall today, there’s going to be more of a significant impact than then.”

When discussing the possibility of more storms like Harvey, Erickson made a distinction between the number of storms that actually form and how many of those storms end up making landfall.

“The numbers fluctuate every 20 years or so where we have more tropical storms than in a quiet period,” Erickson said.

Erickson pointed to an active period of tropical cyclones through the late ’40s to the early ’60s for the United States while the ’60s to the ’80s were “relatively quiet.”

“It was a busy period for the ’90s and onward,” Erickson said. “We’re a good 25 to 30 years into this more active period; so, we may turn toward a lesser number (of storms).”

Erickson compared how many times storms make landfall to a lottery system, remarking that the more storm systems that are out in the Gulf, the greater the likelihood of landfall.

This story appeared in Volume 1 of The Port Arthur News Profile, April 8, 2018