Harvey mostly did as predicted overnight Friday into Saturday: It entered Texas near Rockport as a category 4 hurricane with high winds and hard rains over a broad chunk of southeast Texas, then headed inland and stalled.
What happens over the next three or four days is harder to predict, meteorologists said Saturday, as the system was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm. But they expect the rains will hit the hardest east of Interstate 35. Widespread flooding is almost a certainty, forecasters said.
“It may become devastating” anywhere between San Antonio and east of Houston, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Runyen in a media briefing just after noon. “It’s a pretty rare event that we have a hurricane this strong that gets caught up and doesn’t just scoot on out of the state.”
Harvey’s eye, with winds on its most dangerous east wall reaching 130 mph, hit Rockport about 10 p.m. Friday and overnight moved relatively quickly to the Victoria and Cuero areas, about 50 to 70 miles inland. Then the storm put on the brakes, influenced by a strong high pressure system over the southwestern U.S.
By mid-day Saturday, Harvey was meandering north at a stately 2 mph, with its sustained winds below 75 mph. Meteorologic models vary, with some showing it moving in a “loop de loop,” as Runyen put it, before driving northeast early next week. That exact movement over the next couple of days won’t matter that much, he said, because the storm is expected to remain in that general area.
So Harvey’s broadly spaced rain bands -- including one that throughout Saturday dumped rain on Galveston and a long swath north of there -- will continue to periodically dump torrents over all of southeast Texas as has been the case since Friday night.
Aside from the hurricane winds, which caused serious damage and possible fatalities in Rockport and a few other communities between Corpus Christi and Port Lavaca, by mid-Saturday the Cuero area had gotten 7 to 8 inches of rain, and places in Fort Bend County had already exceeded 10 inches.
The rain totals in Austin, on the edge of the storm, were lighter, with about 3 inches by noon at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The Houston area has had 4 to 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Those rains had yet to cause stream or river flooding, according to National Weather Service maps. But the lingering storm could pump as much as another 20 inches of rain into the coastal plains, and the weather service expects flooding in as many as 82 of its gauge stations in southeast Texas. The hardest hit are likely to be Colorado, Guadalupe, San Antonio and Brazos river basins, forecasters said.