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Tropical storm Harvey falls into a depression: A Q&A with UB Geography Associate Professor Chris Renschler

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Tropical storm Harvey touched down in southwest Louisiana around 4 a.m Wednesday morning near the town of Cameron, LA, according to The New York Times. The storm has now lasted six days and experts are not sure when the rain will stop as the storm was expected to continue through Wednesday. Certain areas of the city set national records for rainfall from a single storm. Local officials have confirmed 30 deaths from flood-related issues.

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner stated that the cities focus will be based on rescuing individuals until the storm has passed. According to the National Hurricane Center, Harvey was expected to move northeast and eventually weaken into a tropical depression. Turner has placed a curfew on the city of Houston from midnight till 5 a.m. until further notice.

To gain more perspective on the way landscape and planning play into how a hurricane affects a city, The Spectrum spoke to Chris Renschler, an associate professor in geography at UB.

The Spectrum: Given the lack of heavy rain usually in the area, do you feel that Houston was ready for the flooding that was Harvey?

Chris Renschler: This was a lot of precipitation to work with so partially I’m sure there was readiness but this was an overwhelming amount of precipitation.

TS: Is there anything the city can do right now to improve the situation or do you feel at this point they just have to wait it out?

CR: At the moment it is all in response mode – it is to save peoples lives and to get people in safe places. That’s all what they’re doing right now.

TS: Would it be considered extremely rare for Houston to receive a storm like this?

CR: It is a combination of things that is responsible for that. One is the weather, is the storm that you’re referring to. But the other thing is also how you manage your land and Houston is one of the fastest growing areas, fastest growing population and current metropolitan region in the U.S. Those dams, for example, you pick those two dams that are being featured in the news right now, they were basically built and designed in the 1940s. They don’t take into account the land use change, the land cover change that has been happening in the surrounding areas.

TS: So would you say this is something the city should have kept updated? Do you think those dams are out of date?

CR: [Houston] started already on that. It takes a couple of years to implement that and they just started last year I believe. The two reservoirs that I am talking about are Addicks and Barker.

TS: The residents of Texas are the primary concern, but is there anything the city can do to reduce the water damage and remove the water after the storm?

CR: At the moment, the rain has stopped. So the water will run off, but it will take a while until that happens. You can only direct, [but] there is limitation because of the damage from the water. You go from a controlled release of water to an uncontrolled release of water, so you can imagine that the options are pretty limited.

TS: With the storm still going on, do you feel that other areas like specifically areas in Louisiana are at risk for a great amount of flooding?

CR: Yes, absolutely. I believe that there is quite some flooding still associated with that storm. The storm will turn into a depression that will also provide a lot of precipitation but it is not clear how much or where those areas will be.

Daniel Petruccelli and Thomas Zafonte are co-senior sports editors and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com


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