Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm along the Texas coast on August 25, 2017. The massive storm produced unprecedented flooding across the state, and many communities will be rebuilding and recovering for years to come. In Fiscal Year 2017, staff from across the National Ocean Service supported the impacted communities by delivering coastal science, management, and operational expertise. Following is a summary of some of those activities.
The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) issued Storm QuickLook postings every six hours throughout the storm. The product provides a synopsis of near real-time oceanographic and meteorological observations at locations affected by a storm. There are currently 36 operational water level stations along the Texas coast, which include NOAA National Water Level Observation Network stations, Physical Oceanographic Real Time Systems, and Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network stations. On August 31, CO-OPS issued a final peak water level graphic that showed the highest water levels measured at NOAA tide stations during the storm. Manchester, TX, was recorded as having the highest water levels at 10.35 feet above Mean Higher High Water (MHHW). Inundation is most likely to occur when water levels rise above MHHW.
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) collected more than 25,500 aerial oblique images, covering more than 16,400 square kilometers along the Texas coast. Using NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operation’s Beechcraft King Air 350 CER and DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft, NGS covered the Texas coast from South Padre Island to High Island and around Port Aransas, the Brazos River, Richmond, Houston, the San Jacinto River, and Beaumont. Images were processed and posted online within hours. The imagery is used for a variety of purposes, including recovery strategies, search-and- rescue efforts, hazard identification, vessel locations, and damage assessment. NGS conducts surveys as requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or a state, territory, or tribe in coordination with FEMA.
Before Harvey made landfall, the Office of Coast Survey (OCS) positioned personnel and assets in strategic locations close to the Texas coast. The western Gulf Coast navigation manager was at Houston’s Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base supporting response coordination efforts. The eastern Gulf Coast navigation manager was at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Corpus Christi supporting response coordination efforts. OCS survey capabilities were first requested to assist in the vicinity of Corpus Christi, where NOAA’s Navigation Response Team 2 (NRT2) began surveys. NRT4, homeported in Galveston, continued survey operations in Texas. OCS also mobilized personnel from the Navigation Response Branch, NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II, and NRT5 to Stennis, MS, to support OCS’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST) and augment staffing for NRT4. NRT1, homeported at Stennis, stood by to provide logistics coordination and MIST support.
The Office for Coastal Management (OCM) assisted the National Hurricane Center by providing the underlying elevation models and sea level rise data used to develop storm surge forecast maps, which were issued for the first time to prepare for Harvey and proved instrumental tools for Texas decision makers. Additionally, OCM held disaster planning workshops and helped develop disaster response plans for five National Estuarine Research Reserves in the Gulf region. Harvey dealt a severe blow to the facilities at Texas’s Mission-Aransas reserve headquarters in Port Aransas, but the disaster preparedness initiative resulted in pre-storm efforts to protect the staff and reduce damages.
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Office of Coast Survey (OCS) coordinated efforts to rapidly outfit the sanctuary Research Vessel Manta to conduct hydrographic surveys, which were a critical component of the multi-agency effort to reopen the Port of Houston. The Manta is based at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary offices in Galveston, TX. OCS technicians and the crew of the Manta executed object detection surveys of the Houston Ship Channel. Their identification of potential dangers throughout the channel enabled the safe removal of navigation hazards that were blocking open passage to vessels headed to Houston. Following the storm, ONMS reported that the sanctuary facilities in Galveston sustained flood damage but remained intact.
As the storm passed the affected areas of Texas and Louisiana, personnel from the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) stood by, pre-deployed within the region, to work on pollution response. Throughout the duration of the storm, the NOS Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) led daily calls on the coordination of preparedness and response efforts. The DPP brings together NOAA-wide resources to prepare NOS and partners to respond to and recover from pollution events and natural disasters. The DPP is home to the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, AL, which hosts trainings, drills, and workshops while enhancing NOAA’s coordination and emergency planning to conduct an organized and effective response. OR&R and the DPP addressed issues including marine debris and oil and chemical spills in the coastal environment. OR&R provides scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard during coastal disasters.
The U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) and the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GGOOS, an IOOS regional association) continued to monitor conditions and provide real-time physical oceanographic data and models during and following Harvey. Observing platforms included high-frequency (HF) radars, buoys, and weather stations, which, with few exceptions, operated throughout the storm. The HF radar electronics at two sites near Galveston were evacuated prior to Harvey; HF radar equipment at the third site, Padre Island National Seashore, operated throughout the storm. GCOOS expanded its Hurricane Harvey resources page to include post-storm data, information, and updates.