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Hurricane Harvey Intensifies, Will Be Strongest Texas Coastal Bend Landfall in 47 Years

Climate
Current Storm Information

By Jon Erdman

Hurricane Harvey continues to intensify and will be the nation's first Category 3 landfall in almost 12 years tonight or Saturday morning, poised to clobber the Texas Gulf Coast with devastating rainfall flooding, dangerous storm-surge flooding and destructive winds this weekend that could leave parts of the area uninhabitable for an extended period of time.


Right Now

After a slight pause overnight, Harvey has re-intensified with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. Harvey is located just under 150 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, moving northwest at around 10 mph.

Harvey's central pressure has plummeted once again Friday morning, approximately another 17 millibars in just a few hours as another rapid intensification phase kicks in.

Outer rainbands are already spiraling ashore as far north as Galveston Bay, bringing brief heavy rain and gusty winds.

Water levels were already 1 to 2 feet above average tide levels as of Friday morning from S. Padre Island, Texas to Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana.

Current Radar, Winds

Current Warnings

A hurricane warning has been issued for a portion of the Texas coast, from north of Port Mansfield to Sargent, including the city of Corpus Christi. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are likely within the watch area. In this case, hurricane conditions are likely within 12 to 24 hours.

Importantly, tropical storm-force winds may begin to affect the hurricane-warned area above as soon as late Friday morning, making final preparations difficult.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from north of Sargent to High Island, Texas, including the cities of Houston and Galveston. Tropical storm warnings are also in effect from north of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande River.

Tropical Alerts

The National Hurricane Center also issued its first-ever public storm surge warning, which includes a swath of the Texas coast from Port Mansfield to High Island. This means a life-threatening storm surge is expected in the warned area in the next 36 hours. This warning does not include Galveston Bay, but does include Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula.

Storm Surge Alerts

Track/Intensity Timeline

With a favorable environment that includes deep, warm Gulf of Mexico water, and low wind shear, Harvey will continue to strengthen, and will likely be a Category 3 hurricane at landfall along the Texas coast overnight Friday night or early Saturday morning.

After making landfall, Harvey will be caught in a zone of light steering winds aloft that will stall the circulation for more than two days.

Once moving again, potentially by Monday, Harvey's center may re-emerge over the Gulf of Mexico, opening up the possibility of some restrengthening before a final landfall in Louisiana. But that remains highly uncertain, as stalled or slow-moving tropical cyclones are notoriously difficult to forecast.

Projected Path

This would be the nation's first Category 3 or stronger hurricane landfall since Hurricane Wilma struck south Florida in October 2005, an almost 12-year run.

Harvey may also be the strongest landfall in this area known as the Texas Coastal Bend since the infamous Category 3 Hurricane Celia hammered the Corpus Christi area in August 1970 with wind gusts up to 161 mph, damaging almost 90 percent of the city's businesses and 70 percent of its residences and destroying two hangars at the city's airport.

Harvey will bring a mess of coastal impacts, including storm-surge flooding, high surf with battering waves and damaging winds.

Devastating Rainfall Flooding

A tropical cyclone's rainfall potential is a function of its forward speed, not its intensity.

With Harvey stalling for a few days, prolific rainfall, capable of devastating flash flooding will result near the middle and upper Texas coast.

To illustrate this, it's possible Harvey's heavy rain may not entirely exit the areas of Texas it soaks until sometime next Thursday, and may not exit the Mississippi Valley until next Friday.

For now, areas near the Texas and southwest Louisiana Gulf coasts are in the biggest threat area for torrential rainfall and major flash flooding, potentially including Houston and Corpus Christi.

Here are the latest rainfall forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and NOAA's Weather Prediction Center. Keep in mind, locally higher amounts are possible where rainbands stall.

  • Middle/Upper Texas Coast: 15 to 25 inches, with isolated totals up to 35 inches.
  • Deep South Texas, Texas Hill Country east to central, southwest Louisiana: 7 to 15 inches.
  • Other affected parts of Texas into the Lower Mississippi Valley: 7 inches or less.

Rainfall Outlook

This forecast is subject to change depending on the exact path of Harvey, locations of rainbands and how long it stalls. Generally, areas along and east of Harvey's path are in the greatest threat of flooding rainfall.

Among the biggest uncertainties is the heavy rain potential in central Texas, including for the flood-prone cities of Austin and San Antonio. That all depends on how far inland and to the west Harvey tracks and how long it stalls in that area.

Flash flood watches have been issued for much of southeast, southern and parts of central Texas.

The ground is already quite saturated in many of these areas from what has been one of the wettest starts to August on record.

Long-Lived Surge, Wind Threats

Harvey's slow movement will also likely lead to additional long-lived impacts from wind.

To the east of Harvey's center, a persistent fetch of south to southeast winds will build swells over the western Gulf of Mexico. As Harvey strengthens, coastal flooding and added storm surge will peak along parts of the Texas and Louisiana coasts through late Friday night into early Saturday morning with Harvey's landfall.

Here are the latest storm surge forecasts, according to the National Hurricane Center. Note that these inundations above ground level are worst-case scenarios along the immediate coast if the peak surge coincides with high tide.

  • N. Entrance of Padre Island Nat'l Seashore to Sargent, Texas: 6 to 12 feet.
  • Sargent to Jamaica Beach, Texas: 5 to 8 feet.
  • Port Mansfield to N. Entrance of Padre Island Nat'l Seashore, Texas: 5 to 7 feet.
  • Jamaica Beach to High Island, Texas: 2 to 4 feet.
  • Mouth of the Rio Grande River to Port Mansfield, Texas: 2 to 4 feet.
  • High Island, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana: 1 to 3 feet.

Here are the times of high tide Friday night into Saturday night, all in local time.

Given Harvey's expected slow crawl near the coast, at least some coastal flooding, along with battering waves, could persist for several days, over multiple tide cycles along the Texas and southwest Louisiana coast into next week.

This coastal flooding and wave action could increase if Harvey's center re-emerges over the Gulf and intensifies, potentially leading to a second storm surge along parts of the Louisiana or upper Texas coast next week. Again, this part of the forecast is highly uncertain at this time.

Coastal Flood, Waves, Wind Setup

Furthermore, this water rise from the Gulf of Mexico won't allow rain-swollen rivers and bayous to drain, compounding the inland flood threat.

Destructive Wind Threat

If that wasn't enough, there's the winds.

High winds capable of downing numerous trees, powerlines and damaging structures can be expected where the eyewall of Harvey tracks.

Furthermore, persistent winds, even if they are not particularly high-end if Harvey is over land, could down more trees than they otherwise would given the rain-soaked or flooded ground, possibly for several days as Harvey lingers.

Potential Power Outages

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes can help you plan for a hurricane. NOAA also has excellent resources to plan for flooding.

Check back with weather.com for updates on Harvey.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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