Energy & Environment

Scientists Learning More About How Harvey’s Floodwaters Behaved

Studies from Texas and Florida looked at how the storm’s floodwaters moved through the region.

Runoff from Hurricane Harvey as seen by satellite imaging.

After studying how Harvey’s floodwaters moved through Houston toward the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are learning more about how the flooding behaved.

The findings were discussed an annual meeting of ocean scientists in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday. A study from the University of Florida found that Houston’s bayous and rivers were so overwhelmed by rain that key draining points became clogged. The study’s author, Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, explained that as Buffalo Bayou was trying to empty floodwaters into Galveston Bay, flows from the San Jacinto River at times caused the flooding to push back up into the Houston area, which helped keep water levels high for days.

Valle-Levinson said sea level rise made the bottleneck worse.

“The ocean was preconditioning the flooding in Houston and in Galveston Bay,” he said.

Another study from Texas A&M did find some good news: the storm’s contaminated floodwaters didn’t flow far enough into the Gulf of Mexico to reach the protected Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.