Why Hurricane Harvey is the perfect storm: Warm water and calm air up high are the recipe for a life-threatening monster weather system

Friday, August 25, 2017
By Paul Martin

Hurricane Harvey is following the perfect recipe to be a monster storm
Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms
Warm water, calm air at 40,000 feet high and slow speed to dump maximum rain are contributing factors

25 August 2017

Hurricane Harvey is following the perfect recipe to be a monster storm, meteorologists say.

Warm water. Check. Calm air at 40,000 feet high. Check. Slow speed to dump maximum rain. Check.

University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms: The devastating storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008; the winds of Category 4 Hurricane Brett in 1999 and days upon days of heavy rain of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Rainfall is forecast to be as high as 35 inches through next Wednesday in some areas.

Deadly storm surge – the push inwards of abnormally high ocean water above regular tides – could reach 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center warned, calling Harvey life-threatening.

Harvey’s forecast path is the type that keeps it stronger longer with devastating rain and storm-force wind lasting for several days, not hours.

‘It’s a very dangerous storm,’ National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini told The Associated Press. ‘It does have all the ingredients it needs to intensify. And we’re seeing that intensification occur quite rapidly.’

Warm water

Warm water is the fuel for hurricanes. It’s where storms get their energy. Water needs to be about 79 degrees or higher to sustain a hurricane, McNoldy said.

Harvey is over part of the Gulf of Mexico where the water is about 87 degrees or 2 degrees above normal for this time of year, said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter meteorologist and meteorology director of Weather Underground.

A crucial factor is something called ocean heat content. It’s not just how warm the surface water is but how deep it goes. And Harvey is over an area where warm enough water goes about 330 feet deep, which is a very large amount of heat content, McNoldy said.

‘It can sit there and spin and have plenty of warm water to work with,’ McNoldy said.

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