Hurricane Harvey was the 2nd major hurricane we went through as a family of three. The first was Hurricane Ike. We thought we learned from Ike. We thought we learned from previous flood events (tax day flood 2016 and memorial day flood 2015). Hurricane Harvey was worse! It was an emotional rollercoaster that taught us even more lessons.
- People are more important than things. With Hurricane Ike, we knew there could be damage (and there was) but we never felt the dire need to evacuate and we were never under evacuation orders. We also knew we weren’t going to lose everything. We had done the standard hurricane preparations. However, Harvey was scarier because from the get-go we were being told this is going to be record rain event. And preparing for being flooded is completely different than preparing for a major wind event. Once we knew Houston was going to get hit, we started moving what we could upstairs. This is where it became clear, you cannot save everything. Prior to our son, we evacuated for Hurricane Rita and it was easy to take lots of things when travelling as 2 adults. Well, for Ike we rode it out as a family of 3. And for Harvey, we thought we’d be riding it out until we got put under mandatory evacuation orders. Well, evacuating as a family of 3 means you definitely can’t take everything. We were lucky enough to be able to get out in our car (albeit we had to wait several hours after the evacuation order for the street to be low enough to get out). Otherwise, we would have walked out each with just one bag. The point is, we were told directly we were facing the potential of 3 to 5 feet of water due to the Brazos River going 3 feet about the flood stage for Oyster Creek which connects to the Brazos and runs through our neighborhood and connects to Ditch B and American Canal which are directly next to us. Ditch B had topped its banks twice with Harvey and was awfully close to our house. Thus, the city knew if the river rose to the height and at the speed, it was forecasted, we would be flooded. You have to act fast. You can’t save everything. Saving our family was important! Thus when we came home, we were overjoyed to only have seepage from Ditch B touching our foundation (way better than standing water) and water issues from the chimney (very common problem around us). Now, we are in the process of analyzing what we have. We don’t need it all. We have already passed on items of clothing and jackets, donated many bags of stuff to charities, donated old curriculum to flood-damaged schools, donating homeschooling materials to friends with younger kids, etc.
- Harvey taught us way more about weather forecasting and weather chart reading. I had just done a weather lesson with my son and 3 of our friends. I even wrote a blog about it here. But the information we learned never had as many colors as we would see on the charts for Harvey. We learned there are extra colors for when you exceed 20 inches of rain and when the rainfall rate exceeds 6 inches per hour. Our neighborhood ended with 37 inches but just a couple miles east and south of us they had over 40 inches. And some parts of Houston had 52 inches. This wasn’t discussed in any of our weather materials! In addition, we experienced way more weather warnings at once. We discussed various weather warnings as well as the difference between watches and warnings, but, it is completely different to go through so many all at once. At the worst of it, we had simultaneously received hurricane watch, tropical storm warning, flash flood warning, flood warning, civil engineering warning (this was a new one and was related to issues with reservoirs north-west of us), and tornado warnings. On Friday and Saturday night, we slept downstairs due to the number of tornado warnings and the fact that we had been under a tornado watch for more than 24 hours. We never had this number of warnings and alerts with Ike. Harvey was definitely a monster on the weather charts.
- Being able to read hydrological data is important. Sadly, in my previous weather lessons with my son and our friends we had missed this. However, Harvey made it clear, you need to understand hydrological data. Hydrological data is a different set of graphs documenting the levels of the major rivers and reservoirs along with the various flood stages. This data combined with topological data can help you determine what flood stage is bad for you. You also need to understand floodplains, flood maps, inundation maps, levees (lots of levee districts around Houston), and where the various ditches, creeks, bayous, and rivers meet. This is why for us, the original forecast of 59 feet for the Brazos was so dangerous. 56 feet is already severe flood for much of our area but that is the danger number for us as that is when the Brazos then floods Oyster Creek completely over its banks. This 3 feet of water above 56 would translate into a lot of water by us and standing water in our house. Thankfully, we were reading the hydrological data daily. What saved us from severe damage was the fact that the river did not crest as fast as forecasted and it didn’t reach the original forecast height. Instead, it crested just shy of 56 feet and 5 days later than original projections. This made all the difference for us in terms of minor damage versus severe. However, it didn’t stop other parts of our area from getting severely flooded.
- Understand your insurances and know the difference between standard homeowner’s insurance and flood insurance. We have always had flood insurance ever since Tropical Storm Allison. We know how easy flash floods occur in TX and we know the streets are designed to flood in an attempt to keep water from homes. Sadly, when rain falls too fast that drains can’t keep up and homes flood. However, many people around here still don’t have flood insurance. Some people were wrongfully told they don’t need it. Some people never read the fine print in their homeowner’s insurance. We read ours and was shocked which is why we will always have flood insurance. Down here, water rising into your house is not covered by standard homeowner’s insurance regardless of how the water rises (street flooding, storm surge, sewer backup, flooding rain, etc.). Water rising is only covered under a flood insurance policy which is bought separately. We are not in a coastal county. In the coastal counties, they often have a separate windstorm policy in addition to a separate flood policy. For us, the windstorm policy is part of our standard homeowner’s insurance. But there is another small detail that many were unaware. The windstorm has a higher deductible than the standard policy. For us, our standard policy has a 1% deductible but our windstorm has a 2% deductible. The per cent is off the insured replacement value of your house. Thus, it is common to see people with $3K standard deductible and a $6K windstorm deductibles. However, some people have policies with 3%-6% windstorm deductibles. So during storms like Harvey, there are two different deductibles. And if you don’t have flood insurance, your homeowner’s insurance is not going to cover any of the flood-related damage. What is worse is those who are renters often didn’t have a separate flood insurance for their contents because they were unaware that their renter’s insurance didn’t cover floods either. People need to read their insurance policies!
- Have your most important documents in a sealed plastic bag. We decided that the most important documents were going to be the ones that proved who we were and our insurance documents. We had inside a plastic bag our social security cards, our driver’s licenses, our birth certificates, foreign currency (upcoming trip), and copies of our insurances (car, health, house, and flood). These are things that are not easy to replace and critical for our identification in case our house was damaged beyond being able to return right away. We had these items double bagged just in case. Because we evacuated by car, we also had our son’s homeschooling portfolios in a big bag. We felt we needed those perchance we couldn’t return to our house or had to evacuate further from Houston. All other papers could be replaced.
- Understand evacuation zones versus evacuation orders. For people outside of coastal regions, they may not understand how evacuation works. Houston is huge, over 10 million residents in the greater metro Houston area. But remember, Harvey was hitting way more than just than the Houston area. The state and city came up with better evacuation zones and procedures after Hurricane Rita when they mistakenly told almost the whole area to evacuate at once and included areas that shouldn’t have been. There are now very clear evacuation zones (coastal, A, B, C, and D). These areas were created based on flooding at various storm surge estimates. These areas are the areas that are going to get flooded first and are the most critical to get out before the Hurricane comes. They don’t order them all at once but in stages and there are designated evacuation routes so everyone is not on the same highways out. Evacuation orders are voluntary and mandatory and they can be given to areas outside of evacuation zones. Mandatory means you need to leave and if you stay there will be no emergency services for you. Voluntary means you should leave and if you stay there may or may not be services for you depending on road conditions. Due to the nature of Harvey being a heavy rain event, the counties were issuing evacuation orders to areas outside of the Evacuation Zones based on previous flood events. But as Harvey rains continued and rain totals were exceeding initial projections, counties were issuing additional evacuation orders which is why we were bumped into a mandatory evacuation order so quickly after the storm started. In normal hurricanes, we are far enough inland to not be affected by storm surge and our area can handle about 10-12 inches of rain. Harvey changed all of this because of how fast and how much rain came down.
- Collective trauma. We may have walked away with very minimal damage compared to others near us. However, Harvey was still emotionally traumatic for everyone here. There is a fight or flight reaction going on your body when you receive so many constant severe weather warnings and are placed on mandatory evacuation orders. There is the stress of the unknown and there is stress from watching the area you call home being destroyed. Yes, there are people with no damage, a little damage, a lot of damage, and those who lost everything. Everyone experienced the trauma and fear that came with Harvey differently. The children in the area are definitely carrying some emotional scars from the evacuations and fear of losing everything. Everyone knows at least one person who had severe flood damage. My husband has helped demo and gut several co-workers homes that had several feet of damage. We know there are a couple dozen people in our area who had the same type of chimney water problem as us. We also know a handful of people who were just as lucky as us to only have seepage damage instead of standing water. But everyone around here experienced some form of trauma. It will take time to rebuild Houston. And it will take time to heal from the trauma. Sadly, we watch those affected by Irma and Maria and we know the collective trauma those from Florida, Peurto Rico and the Island nations are going through. Compassion is needed!