Follow Harvey’s calamitous multi-day meander over Texas in this extraordinary animation of satellite imagery

By Tom Yulsman | August 29, 2017 9:38 am

As Harvey flooded Houston with relentless rains, the GOES-16 weather satellite watched from above

An animation of infrared imagery from the GOES-16 weather satellite shows the evolution of Harvey between Aug. 25 and 28 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

An animation of infrared imagery from the GOES-16 weather satellite shows the evolution of Harvey between Aug. 25 and 28 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

One of the most destructive storms in U.S. history continues to pummel southeast Texas and the nation’s fourth largest city for a fourth day, producing calamitous flooding and plunging a huge region into chaos.

Harvey’s center slowly drifted offshore into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, resulting in the buildup of new, intense thunderstorms that are forecast to pummel Houston with yet more rain through Wednesday and possibly beyond. Harvey is expected to remain just offshore of Texas through tonight, and then begin to swirl toward Louisiana.

Rainfall totals could top an unimaginable 50 inches in some places, thanks in large measure to the slow, meandering path Harvey has taken after it stormed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane. You can watch the storm’s evolution over most of that period in the extraordinary animation from the GOES-16 weather satellite above. It consists of infrared imagery acquired between August 25th and 28th.

At the start of the animation, Harvey was still a hurricane, and its well-defined eye is clearly visible. After coming ashore it transitions into a tropical storm.

Try to keep your eyes on the center of circulation. Once ashore it stalls, spinning off massive amounts of rainfall, indicated by yellow and red colors. It then begins to move ever-so-slowly back out toward the Gulf.

Note: GOES-16 is still in its shakedown period, so the animation is based on preliminary, non-operational data. The satellite is expected to be officially operational in September.

  • TLongmire

    My attempt at math came up with the amount of energy required to evaporate all the water that fell in those 4 days was equivalent to the total energy that could fall on the Gulf of Mexico in a day.

    • Tom Yulsman

      That’s an awesome amazing fact! Would you be willing to share how you did that?

      • TLongmire

        Well I’ve heard that 15 trillion gallons fell over Houston so I started with that. Each gallon takes 8000BTUs to evaporate so it took 1.2×10^17 BTUs to evaporate that amount. I saw somewhere that the ocean receives 340 BTUs/ft^2/hr and assuming the Gulf of Mexico is 620000sq/mi I came up with 1.75*10^13sq/ft and multiplied that by 340 and got 6.0*10^15 BTUs possible an hour and divided the 1.2*10^17 BTUs needed and it comes out to 20 hours so really it is more like 2 days.

        • J Smith

          the focus on evaporation to me is not an issue compared to the question of the larger absorbing phenomena: the immense amount of coastal wetland that used to exist there before intensive development

      • J Smith

        Evaporation is almost entirely irrelevant. 80% of that water has already gone out to sea. Normally that, plus absorptions by the huge amount of wetlands that used to exist in that area are what removes this kind of water.

        One only needs to focus on evaporation if the entire area has been idiotically concreted.

  • OWilson

    Anyone who insists on living on the low land in Louisiana, after Katrina, and the flood devastation of 2016, should look in the mirror for someone to blame!

    The government cannot guarantee your safety, or that of your family if you ignore reality.

    You pose a threat, not only to your family, but to the brave First Responders, that have to leave THEIR families to come look for you!

  • Mike Richardson

    I can really empathize with those in Texas suffering from this historic flooding, having personally experienced something similar myself last year. When places that have never flooded in generations suddenly experience rainfall measured not in inches, but feet, this is what happens. Contrary to what willfully ignorant misanthropes may say, these people had little reason to expect flooding of this magnitude, but fortunately their fellow citizens had enough compassion and decency to help them in their time of need. The reactions to disasters like this give a good window into the character of individuals. Luckily, the heroes are out there helping, rather than criticizing victims on the internet.

    • OWilson

      “Little reason to expect” Gulf Coast flooding”?

      Global Warmers have been warning you for decades!

      It’s the new normal, they tell us!

      Settled science!

      97% of scientists agree!

      You yourself are constantly bemoaning the loss of the World’s Cities to the risiing seas.

      Laugh of the day, nay, laugh of the year! :)

      • Mike Richardson

        Well, obviously you felt you met the characteristics described. It’s a shame you’re such a miserable and spiteful person that you enjoy the misery of others. I try not to wish I’ll on others. In fact, I don’t know your ex, but I wish her all the best — the best lawyer, the best alimony settlement, and the best replacement companionship. Thinking positive thoughts! 😀

        • OWilson

          Thank you for your thoughts on the matter! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Well, I do try to feel sympathy for victims of disaster, whether natural or man-made. 😉

          • OWilson

            And we all know how much “sympathy” solves real world problems! :)

            Sympathy, like blame, is always a post-mortem exercise!

    • J Smith

      You argument is really a red herring.

      It is neither blaming the victim nor “misanthropic” to note the successive local decisions made to “reclaim” (destroy) the stupendously vast amount of wetlands that have been removed, and which serve to buffer these type of storms, nor the very fast sprawl and development.

      Few people are blaming the individual whose home flooded, but the blame lies squarely in the lap of local politicians who have piled an enormous amount public infrastructure there right in an area that has been hit y huge hurricanes over and over for thousands (3 million actually) of years. This in turn pumps up private investment in business and housing. putting even more money and lives at risk. At some point the people living there have some of the blame for the area being susceptible.

      And these areas have been seeing flooding over and over.

      • Mike Richardson

        Actually, the person who first replied does indeed blame victims, stating they should “look in the mirror for someone to blame.” Folks like that pretty much self-identify as misanthropes, over-generallizing entire regions and groups of people in ignorance, as many of the places flooded have not previously been subject to flooding. But I do agree with your point about overdevelopment contributing to flooding in some areas. Just be aware that with rainfall totals measured in feet instead of inches, anywhere would experience catastrophic flooding, regardless of how well the land is managed.

        • OWilson

          Really, Einstein? :)

          Did you skip geography in school too?

          I built a house far from the ocean, at elevation 600 feet. My family was safe!

          You RE-built a house in Louisiana which is always getting battered by floods, and flood warnings.

          I’ve never been flooded out, and you have.

          See any connection there, Mikey? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I built a home where my family has lived for generations, never having been flooded. As a self-professed “conservative,” I’d expect you to maybe appreciate family and tradition, but as a self-professed “person with half a brain,” it’s apparently too much for you to contemplate. I guess you’ve never had a business/job that didn’t work out, or a marriage, either, eh? But I’m sure, as always, the fault must have been someone else’s, and not due to the one common denominator, right? 😉

            And weren’t you planning a move to the Dominican Republic, a place that clearly suffers more frequent hits by hurricanes than where you’re at now? Really, Einstein? 😀



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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