The hurricane harvey (2017) Texas rainstorm: Synoptic analysis and sensitivity to soil moisture

Thomas J. Galarneau, Xubin Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


A synoptic analysis and soil moisture (SM) sensitivity experiment is conducted on the record-breaking rainstorm in Texas associated with Hurricane Harvey on 26-30 August 2017. The rainstorm occurred as the moist tropical air mass associated with Harvey was lifted along a frontogenetical near-surface coastal baroclinic zone beneath the equatorward entrance region of an upper-level jet streak. The weak steering winds in Harvey's environment, allowing Harvey to remain nearly stationary, were associated with a deformation steering flow pattern characterized by a trough to the north and flanking ridges to the west and east. This pattern has occurred with other notable tropical cyclone rainstorms along the Gulf Coast, except in Harvey's case it contributed to the collocation of deep tropical moisture and a persistent midlatitude lifting mechanism. Motivated by marked increases in SM during the rainstorm, a suite of six numerical simulations is used to test the sensitivity of the Harvey rainstorm (track, intensity, and rainfall) to varying SM. These simulations include dry, realistic, and wet SM conditions and an additional three runs with the initial SM held constant throughout the simulations. The results showed that track and prelandfall intensity were most sensitive to SM. Decreased SM resulted in the 1) development of an anticyclone in the southern plains that steered Harvey farther southwest in Texas, and 2) interruption in the intensification of Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico as dry air in the Yucatan Peninsula was entrained into Harvey's circulation, contributing to a weaker system at landfall. Implications of these findings on the evolution of tropical systems are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2479-2502
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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