Views from space reveal the staggering extent of Harvey’s flooding – now confirmed as a 1-in-1,000-year event

By Tom Yulsman | August 31, 2017 6:15 pm
Satellite images centered on Houston taken on May 2, before Harvey, and Aug. 31, 2017, afterward. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Satellite images centered on Houston taken on May 2, before Harvey, and Aug. 31, 2017, afterward. (Source: NASA Worldview)

As Harvey has lumbered to the northeast, the clouds have dissipated, finally giving satellites a clear view of what the 1,000-year flooding event in southeast Texas looks like.

The animation above tells the tale.


Image source: NASA Worldview

I created it using images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite, the first on May 2nd, long before Harvey stormed ashore, and the second image just today. Look carefully at the center of the images and you can see the pattern of roads in the Houston area. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a labeled map that can help you get your geographic bearings.)

The false-color scheme emphasizes the presence of liquid water in deep blue tones. And check out just how much is covering a vast swath of southeast Texas.

It is, in fact, a 1-in-1,000 year flooding event, according to an analysis by Shane Hubbard, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center, quoted in an excellent story by the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow today.

“This is something that hasn’t happened in our modern era of observations,” Samenow quotes Hubbard as saying.

Here’s what the same scene as above looks like in natural color (make sure to click on it to see it full-sized):

Before and after satellite images reveal the extent of flooding in southeast Texas. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Before and after satellite images reveal the extent of flooding in southeast Texas. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Houston’s roadways are clearer here. But the flooding may be a little more difficult to discern. It is visible in muddy tones, which of course makes sense, since the water has collected huge amounts of sediments as it has run off the land.

Check out the change in color of the big bay on Houston’s southeastern edge. It goes from greenish to brown – and a lot of that turbid water is now flowing out  into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are fears that floodwaters could be contaminated by toxic chemicals from Superfund sites in the Houston area. Much of that could find its way into the Gulf.

  • OWilson

    My thoughts go out to the Global Warmers who, through life circumstance find themselves unable to move from the Gulf coastal areas that they know are going to be flooded catastrophically as this “new normal” flooding occurs on a regular basis.

    They have been warning us for some time that these extreme weather events are not only the new normal, but are getting worse and worse,

    These historic drought and floods, they tell us, are becoming routine!

    I have less sympathy for the climate deniers in those areas, it may be that they are getting just what they deserve! :)

    • John C

      CNN Newsroom co-host John Berman asked a guest, former National Hurricane Center director Bill Read, whether the devastating rainfall was due to climate change.

      • OWilson

        CNN are obsessed by Malenia’s shoes, and counting Trump’s tweets and hugs, while he is supposed to be either insane, or a Russian spy on Putin’s payroll.

        Hard to keep up with what’s real news in your country anymore.

        • John C

          The major media – CNN, WaPo, NYT, Time, Big 3 Networks, Hollywood, etc. – have deliberately transformed themselves into the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party, nothing more.

          I imagine the people in the old Eastern Block must have viewed their own media in the same way. All the news, in great detail, that fits the official Narrative. Ignore, down play or outright attack any news or source that doesn’t advance the Narrative.

          Thankfully, we still have a few outlier sources such as Fox, Limbaugh. Which cater to that non-liberal niche market known as half the country.

          • OWilson

            It’s confusing.

            All 17 of Obama’s U.S. Intelligence Agencies say that Trump colluded to steal the election from Hillary. There’s no move to invalidate the election!

            A Prime Time host on CNN seriously affirmed that Trump was “mentally unstable”, and all 4 of his panelists, agreed! No dissent from all 4 experts.

            There’s no Congressional team of psychiatrists sent in to check out the insane Russian spy with his finger on the nuke button.

            None of this is even on CNN’s News Web Site.

            We got DACA and Pincess Diana, Harry and Kate Middleton’s third child.

            Something’s seriously not right here!

          • Mike Richardson

            Or someone. How this particular rant has anything to do with the topic of record -breaking rainfall or flooding is quite beyond me, and probably most folks. Tangential, disjointed thinking at its best.

          • OWilson

            You came late, so you missed the party and the conversation, as usual :)

            We are all on our way to work now, so just leave the six pack on the counter, and we’ll catch you later, OK? :)


          • Mike Richardson

            No, I see you derailed the conversation from the relevant topic to political rants and useless musings on pop culture — as usual. 😉

          • OWilson

            Politics and Hurricanes are forever intertwined, Mikey! Whether you like it or not.

            Katrina/Bush/GlobalWarming/U.N.IPCC/Obama/Harvey/Melaniia’s shoes.

            But you could change the subject by posting a rare on topic comment, to get the thread back on track, but no, instead of amateur psychoanalysis, and name calling!

            Thanks for delivering my daily smile.

            I’ve missed you following me around lately, glad to see you’re back! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Nope, no floods lately. And insured, regardless. Speaking of family, how’s the wife, Wilson? Oops, never mind.

            As for the topic, it sure seems like these kinds of floods due to torrential rain are becoming more frequent. If only some clever scientists had warned us about this! But who’d want to listen to them when we have experts like you? 😁

          • OWilson

            No point in warnings if folks won’t heed them.

            Low lying Livingston Parish in Louisiana was warned twice by the government about flooding before the floods of 2016.

            Say, didn’t you tell us you got flooded out Livingston Parish in 2016?

            Re-assuring to know that on your family gravestones you can write, “At Least, They Had Insurance, regardless” :)

          • Mike Richardson

            It’s cute you think you know so much about where you assume I live, kinda like a stalker. But wherever I choose to live, I always plan for the safety of my child, my lovely wife, and myself. Speaking of epitaphs (since your natural expiration date is approaching much sooner than mine), in the unlikely event someone comes to visit or desecrate your lonely gravesite, are you thinking of something along the lines of “Keep Off My Grass!” Or, more appropriate to your attitude regarding climate change and the generations to come who will be increasingly affected by it — “F@#! All Of You!” Just a few suggestions to catch your unique personality for posterity. :)

          • OWilson


            You’re rambling again, Mikey!

            Bye for now!

          • Mike Richardson

            The only proven liar here is you, Wilson. It always catches up with you in the end, though. 😉

          • Mike Richardson

            Some of us actually have full-time jobs, social lives away from Discus boards, and spouses to spend time with. But it’s nice to see you staying busy repeating talking points for bobble-heads. That must be really fulfilling for you. :)

            Meanwhile, folks in Houston are trying to rebuild their lives from catastrophic flooding, people in the Caribbean will be spending years rebuilding from Irma (still planning on moving there?), and Florida is bracing for a hurricane strike which could make Andrew seem like a summer thunderstorm. But I’m sure you’ll be happy to claim none of this has anything to do with global warming, right?

    • Sue Rawson

      boyn you’re brainwashed to the max!

      • OWilson

        You missed the sarcastic smiley?

        • Erik Bosma

          I think Mrs. Wilson’s little boy, O, is beginning to believe!! Hallelujah!!

          • OWilson

            After the hype and alarmist warnings these last couple of decades, I can’t believe there are any true believers left down on the Gulf Coast! :)

    • Antifaarecommies

      Maybe the media reporting is making it worse.

  • CarolAST

    The Houston area is actually less flooded than areas to the west and east. Must be the drainage channels in the bayous. In a detailed map of Houston I saw, most of the flooding was along the lower reaches of the bayous.

    • OWilson

      I’ve been down there and driven along those levees in Texas and Louisiana.

      It’s scary even in beautiful weather!

      Miles and miles of river artificially flowing above you. In Galveston it’s the sea. The same nagging feeling you get Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bridge or being in NY on the anniversary of 9/11.

      I little sigh of relief when you through.

      Wouldn’t want to tempt fate by doing it every day!

      But that’s just me!

  • Not_that_anyone_cares, but…

    Yesterday someone was predicting more of these in the next 83 years Now we learn it won’t happen again for 1000 years?

  • Erik Bosma

    A 1 in 1000 year event, Soon a 1 in 10 year event. And then an annual event. Irma’s on the way, boys.

    • OWilson

      We are in the middle of Hurrican Season.

      We get them every year. Alway have!

      Be prudent and take care of your family out there!

      • Erik Bowen

        The entire world has been experiencing more melt and flood water than it ever has in recent history. It always has… Be prudent and move your family to higher elevation… ha

  • Sam Iam

    There’s another three months in hurricane season…

  • J Smith

    It is, in fact, a 1-in-1,000 year flooding event, according to an analysis by Shane Hubbard, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center, quoted in an excellent story by the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow today.
    “This is something that hasn’t happened in our modern era of observations,” Samenow quotes Hubbard as saying.

    Samedow piece was one of the worst written. “Excellent story”? No very bad science and worse research. The geological record shows DOZENS of worse ingress and more volumes of water quite a few times in the last 1,000 years. 6,000 years ago there was a single century of up to a dozen storms dumping twice as much water.

    And samedow sneaks in costs, infrastructure damage and and number of people affected as metrics without noting all those have increased.

    The fact is the “reclaiming” of stupendous areas of wetlands, which are a natural buffer, combined with the over development in the region putting hundreds of billions in property and infrastucture in direct path line where hurricanes have been hitting with massive force for a few million years, ever since the rise of the central American isthmus ~3mya, is what makes these storms “large.”



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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