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Houston citizens told to evacuate as Hurricane Harvey lingers

Houston's officials have finally moved and ordered mandatory evacuations as catastrophic flooding continues in the US's fourth-largest city.

Hurricane Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm but still dropped more than 600mm of rain on Houston in less than a day.

It's killed at least six, with tens of thousands now homeless and around a quarter of Texas' population trapped behind flooding rivers. The 45 counties around Houston have been designated a disaster area.

As Hurricane Harvey continues to ravage part of the southern Texas coast, analysts have long warned that the number and power of hurricanes is increasing globally.

The Global Fluid Dynamics Laboratory has analysed more than a hundred years of data and says: "Existing records of past Atlantic tropical storm or hurricane numbers (1,878 to present) in fact do show a pronounced upward trend," in its report released in March 2017.

But they say the trend is hard to pin on any cause, and also is really, really small.

"We find that, after adjusting for such an estimated number of missing storms, there is a small nominally positive upward trend in tropical storm occurrence from 1878-2006. But statistical tests reveal that this trend is so small, relative to the variability in the series," reads the report.

They say short-term storms are now being reported more regularly and with more details than at any other time in history, therefore some statistical anomaly is built into the data.

"Such short-lived storms were particularly likely to have been overlooked in the earlier parts of the record, as they would have had less opportunity for chance encounters with ship traffic."

But this is small relief to more than 200,000 people who've been forced to evacuate their homes in southern Texas.

Hurricane Harvey has made landfall in Texas and is forecast to deposit over a metre of rain on parts of the Southern Coast according to the US Weather Service.

A fifth of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been impacted by the storm while up to 45% of the US’s refining capacity is located along the southern Texas coast. While production is affected, shipping has also been ordered to halt along an area of the coastline said to stretch up to 320km from Corpus Christi to Texas City.

Harvey is now a Category 4 hurricane, with winds of more than 200km/h and a storm surge that could rise to as much as 3.5m. This means much of the Southern Coast is likely to suffer worse damage than forecast as the Hurricane was predicted to make landfall as a Category 2 storm.

It’s the worst storm to hit the US since 2005, although Hurricane Ike made landfall in Texas in 2008 which caused $30bn damage and was only a Category 2 storm. The same storm killed 112 Americans.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in an area between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor and is moving northwest at 11km/h. More than 100,000 people are now without electricity, with multiple warnings issued in the area as far north as Houston. Other cities in danger are Alexandria and Austin where 150mm of rain is forecast.

Houston is flood prone with multiple low-lying areas, along with 30 counties along the seaboard that have been declared disaster areas. The storm surges could last until Monday and Federal Disaster Funds are being prepared to supply drinking water and food should the need arise.

In Rockport, where the storm struck overnight on Friday, residents have been asked to write their social security numbers on their arms if they remain in their homes. Officials say they’ll be easier to recognise should they drown.

The slow-moving hurricane is likely to cause more damage than a storm that moved past quickly as it will deposit more rain in a more confined area. “Due to the slow motion of Harvey and a prolonged period of onshore flow,” the National Hurricane Center said, “water levels will remain elevated for several days.”

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