Hurricane Harvey: Why Is It So Extreme?

Aug 28, 2017

By Mark Fischetti

Hurricane Harvey is drowning southeastern Texas for the fourth day, putting a vast area under feet of water. Experts say Harvey has been stuck longer in one place than any tropical storm in memory. That’s just one of the hurricane’s extremes; the storm is off the charts in many categories. Scientific American wanted to learn why, and asked meteorologist Jeff Masters for help. Masters is the co-founder of Weather Underground, a web site that meteorologists nationwide go to for their own inside information about severe weather. Masters also wrote a fascinating articleon why the jet stream is getting weird.

Why did Hurricane Harvey so quickly explode from a Category 1 hurricane to Category 4?
Last Wednesday night, August 23, Harvey was a tropical depression, but after just eight overnight hours it was forming a hurricane eye wall. “That’s remarkably fast,” Masters says. On Friday it rapidly ballooned from a Category 1 hurricane to Category 4. That’s because it happened to pass over a region of extremely warm ocean water called an eddy. This spot of hot water was 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the Gulf of Mexico around it, which itself was already 1 to 2 degrees F higher than average, reaching 85 or 86 degrees F in places. The hotter the water, the more energy it drives into a storm. Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed New Orleans in 2005, also mushroomed to Category 4 in similar fashion because it, too, passed over a hot eddy in the Gulf.

Why is Harvey so stuck in place over Texas?
Hurricanes are circular structures with winds that spiral counterclockwise. But they are steered by larger wind patterns in the greater atmosphere that push them in one direction. In Harvey’s case, a big high-pressure system over the southeastern U.S. is trying to push the storm in one direction, but a big high pressure system over the southwestern U.S. is trying to push the storm in the opposite direction. “The systems have equal strength and are cancelling each other out,” leaving Harvey stranded, Masters says. “It’s highly usual to have two highs on either side of a hurricane of equal strength.” The only other time Masters recalls that happening to a huge storm system was Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which struck Central America and killed an estimated 7,000 people in Honduras.

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29 comments on “Hurricane Harvey: Why Is It So Extreme?

  • @OP- On Friday it rapidly ballooned from a Category 1 hurricane to Category 4.
    That’s because it happened to pass over a region of extremely warm ocean water called an eddy.
    This spot of hot water was 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the Gulf of Mexico around it,
    which itself was already 1 to 2 degrees F higher than average,
    reaching 85 or 86 degrees F in places.
    The hotter the water, the more energy it drives into a storm.
    Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed New Orleans in 2005,
    also mushroomed to Category 4 in similar fashion
    because it, too, passed over a hot eddy in the Gulf.

    But don’t worry about increased numbers of these storms, or increased intensities resulting from increased capacity for more humidity in a hotter atmosphere:-
    President Trump has assured everyone that these meteorologists and climate scientists really can’t measure water temperatures and have no idea what they are talking about, so it is just a hoax conspiracy!
    In any case the profits from the coal and oil industries will pay for all this and future damage – and grow the economy with money to spare!
    (According to Trumponomics at least! 🙂 )



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  • Hurricane Katrina exploded to monster Category 5 over the hot water of the Gulf, one of the largest and strongest storms ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. It weakened to a strong Cat 3 just before landfall. It had the third lowest barometric pressure in its eye after Hurricane Camille (another devastating killer) and the Labor Day Storm of 1935. It was an epic storm by all measures, but Harvey looks set to outdo it in terms of rainfall, flooding, and sheer devastation. Much of that devastation can be laid at the feet of rampant overdevelopment, piss-poor infrastructure planning and maintenance, utter lack of environmental concern, and the climate-change denialism rampant among the Republican leadership of this state.

    Oh, and fuck Trump. The narcissistic Bumbly McStumblefuck sees this disaster as nothing but a photo op and a chance to preen and get his ego stroked by his Repube toadies – at the expense of millions of suffering citizens. Just fuck him.



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  • Sue Blue #2
    Aug 29, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Bush was none too bright either – with his shambolic organisation when Katrina flooded new Orleans! –
    Especially as this speculative National Geographic article gave a warning prediction A YEAR BEFORE KATRINA STRUCK!

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0410/feature5/

    Louisiana’s Wetlands @ National Geographic Magazine

    It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey.
    Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV “storm teams” warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

    But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground.
    Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

    The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain.
    The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over.
    Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in.
    A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse.
    As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

    When did this calamity happen?
    It hasn’t—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched.
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City.
    Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

    “The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction,” says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast.

    While people who took refuge in a sports arena, had no medicine, and no toilets or water, Bush sent the military to shoot looters to “protect property”.

    Fortunately they failed to shoot the doctor who was leading parties to raid supermarkets for medicines and bottled water – but they did manage to shoot one of the contractors’ men who was trying to repair the levees!



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  • Bumbly McStumblefuck?

    Sue Blue, Just be happy we won’t get storms like this in Washington. I live about a eighth mile from the water and eight feet above sea level.



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  • As I watch the idiot box and see the tallies of all the good hearted and genuinely awesome people stepping up to help out in Texas, i cannot help but continually playing an idea over and over in my head.

    And, that idea is this: why the hell aren’t the industries that contribute to the extremity of this catastrophic event stepping up???? Better yet, why doesn’t the global citizenry DEMAND that they step up and “contribute” BEFORE these events in the form of lowering their profit margins and “greening” their procedures/processes?

    THEY should be paying, instead, their CEO’s make half a billion dollars in bonus money and they fuck the environment up to the detriment of the collective global population. Then, the collective global population comes together to mitigate the event, which could have been minimized from the start if the proper scrubbers and implements were mandated.

    I hear the deniers already, “are you saying that there would be NO storms under your system”???? No, I am saying the storms wouldn’t be 5 fucking feet of rain falling (9 TRILLION cubic feet of water) in 3 days. Christ how many “once in a century storms” have to occur a MONTH to garner the proper attention and reaction??????



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  • Alf1200 – “Bumbly McStumblefuck” is my favorite Trump descriptor. Also, I have a sister and many other family members in the Houston area – Tomball, The Woodlands, Katy, Cypress. Have not heard from them since Saturday. It’s no comfort to me that we don’t get hurricanes here in Washington. And what will happen to us in the Cascadia quake that could hit at any time? We’ll get no help from this Administration, either. We’re all fucked.



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  • Sue Blue, hope your families are all right.
    Yep, we get the big one here on the Cascadia and half the West Coast is screwed.
    I live in Ocean Shores. There is no way to get off the peninsula before fifteen minutes.
    I wish I could move but health is a problem right now. I guess I’ll get in the bathtub with my duck, sunglasses and swim flippers and ride it out. (note to myself, don’t forget the straw hat)
    And I can’t really say what I really want to about Trump…..
    I have a BP problem……..



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  • Crooked, I don’t know how many times the crooked (excuse me) administrations swapped the liability from the corporations to the taxpayers. This must stop. They did it with the banks in 2000.



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  • I think we all know that Trump will be unable to make this disaster about anything other than himself and will alienate millions more voters as people die while he tries to turn it into another campaign rally. I see he’s wearing a campaign hat, has boasted about the crowd size turning out to hear him speak, talked about how no one has ever had to deal with a storm this yuge before and how great a job they’re doing but not mentioned the dead and homeless once yet. Of course it’s hard to imitate real emotions when you have none.



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  • Arkrid, this was a great distraction for Trump from all the attention from the Russia investigations.
    I just watched four seconds of his speech. It was all about how he looked.
    I hope an alligator bites his nuts off.



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  • There will be more storms like that one as a direct result of DT’s policies of removing environmental regulations and hiring an enemy of the EPA to run the EPA. That…sorry: f-ing son of a bitch! He will have blood on his hands as more people suffer as a result of climate change.

    He has some nerve showing his ugly, sick face in Texas. Here’s a partial list of what he’s done vis-a-vis environmental protection:

    Withdrew from the Paris climate agreement.

    Blocked the Clean Power Plan. The plan implemented under Obama focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

    Ended a study on the health effects of mountaintop-removal mining. The process involves blasting away the tops of hills and mountains to get at coal seams under the surface.

    Rescinded a rule mandating that rising sea levels be considered when building public infrastructure in flood-prone areas.



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  • Dan, what is really interesting is the southern states who always support the Republicans are the ones who are going to get hit over and over by hurricanes. Here we are again with the ignorant climate deniers getting the worst of the effects of the weather. I suppose Trump will take credit for making the FEMA program so “awesome”……….



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  • It’s friggin annoying watching the religious nutters being interviewed in Texas as they flee the floods. A women who had been evacuated by police and was just arriving at a shelter in a school building or similar said “Ah sure do thayunk gahd for this here shelter” although it never occured to her to blame her gahd for sending the 10 feet of storm water in the first place.

    In a clip on CNN I think it was the folks of a town that is now mainly underwater after years of sea level rise were busy denying climate change on camera. “It’s just cyclical weather”, “god will have a plan for us” and one guy being interviewed in a boat on what had once been a residential street “I don’t think sea level is any higher now than when I was a kid”. So why are you in a fucking boat in the middle of town, shit for brains?

    This is what got Trump elected. The inability to see what’s right in front of your face because denying facts is all part and parcel of the brainwashing that comes with religious nuttery. I have little doubt that one is more likely to be gullible enough to believe Mexico is going to pay for a big wall if one is also gullible enough to believe in invisible sky pixies. No doubt they also think the fat sociopathic orange frog actually gives a shit about them.

    I know it’s harsh and I don’t really like seeing people in distress but a part of me says just fuck ’em. You reap what you sow and you voted for someone who’s killing the EPA and has left the Paris Climate Accord. If you don’t realise these things matter then just keep thanking your imaginary gahd for the temporary shelters you can live in while your houses wash away.



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  • The thing is, the advancement of the actual science is in a loggerhead. The ones that get it, get it. the ones that don’t… won’t.

    My strategy would be to shift the “agenda” from “jamming climate change science” down throats and presenting the ideas linearly and logically….. to going round the back and putting the whole package into a tiny idea (a tiny idea that the idiots actually endorse)…

    Like “It’s the fundamental duty of all patriotic American corporations to be PROACTIVE instead of REACTIVE and reduce the likelihood of contributing to these catastrophes”…………Then shrinking this down to a slogan —–
    America, proactive not reactive.
    Then a meme — picture of a nuclear warhead with a ‘mericuh flag on it– these keep the peace without being used…. captioned” ‘mericuh Patriotic/proactive AF….”

    You know, put it into the cheap dogshit packaging that these backwards fucks eat regularly.



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  • crookedshoes #15
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:50 am

    From some news sources one could easily think that Texas and Louisiana are the only places affected by floods resulting from heated oceans!

    Does anyone know what thought (if any) might have gone into preparing New York for the next “Sandy”?

    Sierra Leone floods kill hundreds as mudslides bury houses – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-40926187 – 30 Jul 2017

    India floods: Toddlers killed in Mumbai rains – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-41093404

    How can Nigerians be protected from the annual floods? – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-40720985
    30 Jul 2017

    India Gujarat floods kill more than 200 – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-40787080
    1 Aug 2017

    Deadly South Asia floods affect 16m people – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-40975232
    18 Aug 2017

    Sierra Leone floods: Streets inundated in Freetown – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/…africa…/sierra-leone-floods-streets-inundated-in-freetown – 14 Aug 2017

    Rhino swept from Nepal to India by flooding rescued – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40975429
    18 Aug 2017

    Then of course there are the wildfires!

    Wildfires rage across Europe – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-40625324/wildfires-rage-across-europe
    16 Jul 2017 – Firefighters have been tackling blazes in France, Italy and Croatia.

    British Columbia wildfires – 14,000 evacuated as fires spread – BBC …
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40546628 – 10 Jul 2017

    Portugal forest fires: Three days of mourning for 62 victims – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-40320411 – 18 Jun 2017

    California wildfires: Thousands evacuated as flames spread – BBC News
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40549753 – 10 Jul 2017



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  • crooked

    I agree with your approach. Here’s another one:

    Why buy green technology from the Brits? Lets beat them at their game. Use our American big brains to innovate and then sell it back to the Brits and make them pay us in big American bucks!! Haha! Laughing all the way to the bank as usual! USA! USA!



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  • Exactly, Laurie.

    We’re eyeing your lunch because brexiteers just stuffed our major market. Worse, we are switching plans from Eastern European manufacture (an alternate to the increasingly costly Pacific Rim) to Mexico, to more easily flip into the States. Mexico has more free trade agreements than anyone.

    Its the Chinese who’ll do the major carry out though.

    Myself, I would urge the American Right to embrace Sustainability. This will give them true, forever-freedom from other countries. I would urge them to Tidy Up Their Room. Make people jealous of your home. And don’t tip your shit on your neighbors, ‘cos you’re better ‘un they are. Land Sakes!



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  • @Arkrid Sandwich #14

    A woman…..said “Ah sure do thayunk gahd for this here shelter”
    although it never occured to her to blame her gahd for sending the 10
    feet of storm water in the first place.

    It’s not her fault. This is a clear example of human brain development not having kept up with its wider morphological development from our primate ancestry.



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  • Erol #19
    Aug 31, 2017 at 4:43 am

    It’s not her fault. This is a clear example of human brain development not having kept up with its wider morphological development from our primate ancestry.

    The sad thing is, that she had the potential to keep up, but her educational development was retarded by a culture of indoctrinated ignorance, and god-did-it patches, to cover over the ignorance!



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  • @Alan#20

    …..she had the potential to keep up, but her educational development
    was retarded by a culture of indoctrinated ignorance

    I agree that education is a huge factor, but there does seem also to be a genetic component:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-intelligence-hereditary/

    Certainly at an early age children should be taught how to think critically by questioning contentious topics wherever possible (such as the validity of religious belief!). Learning to play chess would also be a great way to train the young to think logically – the more the better in their formative years.



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  • Erol #21
    Aug 31, 2017 at 7:40 am

    Learning to play chess would also be a great way to train the young to think logically – the more the better in their formative years.

    As a class champion at school, and a club champion at college, I could be biased on that one! 🙂

    Although evaluating the psychology of human opponents comes into it as well – but does not work against computers!



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  • @Alan#22

    Well, I’m biased as well! I was London Borough of Brent schools’ champion in the late 1960s, as well as being proud to have drawn against the then British Champion in a simultaneous tournament that he took part in. My favourite opening was the Queen’s Gambit. I haven’t played again in years though….



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  • There seems to be a theme here. I played for my school, Merchant Taylors, although I have no memory of any of the matches. It’s been so long since I even played chess seriously now I can barely remember the names of the openings never mind the moves. However I do also suspect that intensely logical people such as we chess players are the least likely to be susceptible to woo.



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  • Erol #23
    Aug 31, 2017 at 8:18 am

    as well as being proud to have drawn against the then British Champion in a simultaneous tournament that he took part in.

    Playing simultaneous games does need a clear focus to avoid mixing strategies. Once a player is playing beyond six or ten games, it is usually “play each frame as seen”, after identifying the more able players who require closer attention.
    I found a strategy, when playing as one of simultaneous opponents of a top player, initially playing a few irregular moves, could take you off their radar, and put THEM in a position of having to think through non-textbook moves later in the game.

    In our college club training, the “A team” usually played 2 or 3 “B team” members or others, simultaneously. (As they had no chance in one to one matches.) I have only simultaneously played large numbers of opponents (20 or 30) against beginners or kids.
    Of course with larger numbers, the simultaneous player has to decide moves quickly, to avoid slowing down the whole process and boring everyone!
    Like you, I have not played recently, but I agree chess develops a focussed logical thinking process! At our club we also used to play simultaneous side games of draughts, just to learn to cope with unrelated distractions!



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  • @Arkrid Sandwich#24

    Chess is now actively being promoted in UK schools:

    Mission
    Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) is a UK charity whose mission is to improve children’s educational outcomes and social development by introducing them to the game of chess. Founded in 2009, we now teach in over 300 schools and support 400 more nationwide. We also organise a world-class tournament, the London Chess Classic, and Yes2Chess, an international tournament for schools.

    Why Chess?
    Chess is a universal game, knowing no boundaries of age, gender, faith, ethnicity or disability, that promotes key intellectual skills such as problem solving, logical thinking, pattern recognition and concentration. Playing chess also fosters intellectual character. Its cerebral reputation boosts self-esteem and gives children ‘grit’ – the tenacity to cope with adversity – which helps them grow into rounded and employable individuals. It does this by teaching children how to lose and how to win gracefully, to think ahead and foresee the consequences of their actions.

    Academic Benefits
    CSC seeks to close the attainment gap, a major challenge of education policy: only 39% of disadvantaged children make expected progress in Key Stage 2 compared to 60% of their peers. 1 According to the OECD, “Socio-economically disadvantaged students not only score lower … than advantaged students, they are less engaged with and at school, have less drive and motivation to learn, and hold negative self-beliefs about their ability to learn”. 2 We work entirely in the state sector, prioritising areas of deprivation, to give every child the chance to realise their full potential.

    Emerging research suggests a positive link between chess and academic attainment; a recent meta-study concludes that sustained exposure can have a significant impact on mathematics ability.

    What We Do
    CSC delivers chess via curriculum time lessons or through the traditional extra-curricular chess club. Children are taught by one of our trained tutors, who all have Enhanced DBS clearance, progressing from the rules of the game to foundational tactics and strategy over 30 weeks. They acquire a life-long skill, opening up an affordable and enjoyable game of limitless depth. Schools receive chess sets, teaching and learning resources and entry to school activity days at the London Chess Classic. Staff are offered free places on tutor training courses, enabling them to lead the lessons. Our programme was recognised with the Sports & Recreation Alliance Innovative Project Award.

    Alongside direct teaching, we provide a range of support to schools, including free chess sets, tutor training and use of the CSC curriculum. We also run a growing network of chess clubs in libraries.



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  • @Alan#25

    Yes, having to play 20-25 consecutive chess games in a row can’t be easy, even for a champion player!

    Your memory of having play draughts at the same time reminded me of the novelty of once or twice playing ‘blind’ chess at my club. This involved two separate boards each having a single opposing player with a vertical board put in between them so that these players couldn’t see what the other was doing. There would then be an intermediate overseer who could observe both boards and let the other two know the outcome of their respective moves!! Not a serious game, but highly amusing nevertheless.



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  • Alan4discussion #1
    Aug 29, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    President Trump has assured everyone that these meteorologists and climate scientists
    really can’t measure water temperatures
    and have no idea what they are talking about,
    so it is just a hoax conspiracy!
    In any case the profits from the coal and oil industries will pay for all this and future damage – and grow the economy with money to spare!
    (According to Trumponomics at least! ? )

    It remains to be seen if realistic budgets are put in place to cover the real cost of these increasing disastrous severe weather events, and if any lessons are learned about the potential costs of ignoring climate change!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41118993

    The White House says it will ask the US Congress for emergency funding to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

    President Donald Trump is expected to propose an initial $5.9bn (£4.56bn). Texas authorities say the state might need more than $125bn.

    At least 39 people have died in the storm and its aftermath. East of Houston, floodwaters are still rising.

    Visiting Texas, Vice-President Mike Pence promised federal help to “rebuild bigger and better than ever before”.

    The BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher in Houston, Texas, says Congress is expected to act quickly on the request for initial funding when it reconvenes next week after its August recess.

    But, she adds, that will be only the first tranche of money needed for the recovery.

    Mr Pence said 311,000 people had registered for disaster assistance. It is not yet clear how quickly funds might reach victims.

    The White House also said Mr Trump would donate $1m of his own money to the relief effort.

    Earlier, a senior White House aide said about 100,000 homes, not all of which were fully insured, had been affected by the storm and the flooding that accompanied it.

    The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said its teams had rescued more than 3,800 people, and more than 90,000 had already been approved for disaster assistance.

    Fema also warned that residents were being targeted by scams. There are reports of criminals impersonating inspectors and immigration officials.

    Others were receiving fraudulent calls about flood insurance claiming a premium must be paid or coverage would be lost.

    Energy suppliers in southern Texas were forced to shut down refineries and close off pipelines, sending petrol prices higher across the US. Many have restarted operations, but it could take weeks before production is back to normal.

    Ah! The “benefits” of a corporate “free market” – helping the people during a disaster!

    Thousands of homes remain without power.

    Several inches of rainfall are expected in Tennessee and Kentucky over the next two days, and flood warnings remain in effect in parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and Louisiana.



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  • It does look as if Harvey has hit some of the “right” industries whose activities are responsible for aggravating global warming, although the damage to ordinary homes looks to be more costly!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41113666

    How hard has Hurricane Harvey hit the local economy?

    The storm struck at the heart of America’s oil and gas industry, knocking a third of all US production offline, closing refineries around the Gulf Coast, and causing major pipelines that move fuel to other markets to shut.

    Petrol prices, which increased in anticipation of the storm, are expected to continue to rise, despite additional shipments from overseas. In Texas, shortages at stations in some areas have been reported.

    Mansfield Oil Company, a wholesale gas supplier, is trying to bolster its supplies by bringing in fuel by lorry and rail – even ships, depending on the market.

    Estimates say a third of US oil refining capacity has been affected

    Industry damage

    Moody’s expects costs to businesses to total $10bn-$15bn, with additional infrastructure costs rising as high as $10bn.



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