Ag Weather Forum

Uncertainty Over Harvey Shipping Impact

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Enhanced water vapor imagery from the GOES-16 satellite shows intense pooling of moisture as Harvey makes its way toward landfall on the south Texas coast. (NOAA image by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- By Friday morning, atmospheric science focus in the U.S. had moved far away from any memories of the 2017 eclipse. In modern-day parlance, "That was so last Monday." Instead, attention was full-bore on Hurricane Harvey in the western Gulf of Mexico.

As of Friday afternoon, Hurricane Harvey was moving toward the south Texas coast, with landfall expected during Friday night or early Saturday near Corpus Christi, Texas. Harvey is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with winds exceeding 100 mph, and produce extremely heavy rainfall of 15 to 25 inches maximum, with isolated maximum totals of 35 inches through Aug. 30 over the middle and upper Texas coast. During the same time period Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 7 to 15 inches in far south Texas and the Texas Hill Country eastward through central and southwest Louisiana, with accumulations of up to 7 inches extending into other parts of Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley. Rainfall from Harvey will cause devastating and life-threatening flooding.

One feature of this storm that makes rainfall prospects so great is the expected slow movement away from the immediate Gulf Coast. "Harvey is caught between high pressure to the northwest and an upper-level trough to the northeast, and the result is that it's stuck," said DTN senior ag meteorologist Mike Palmerino.

Whether Harvey-related flooding and wind damage will cause a major crop impact, however, is uncertain. "Severe flooding and wind damage is likely to impact unharvested cotton grown in southeast Texas and rice and sugarcane grown in southern Louisiana during the five-to-seven day period," said DTN senior ag meteorologist Joel Burgio. "But, the extent of the damage will depend on the stage of the harvest activity in each location at this time."

Perhaps the key impact for the U.S. grain industry is in how Harvey may affect shipping. Shipping disruptions out of the Texas Gulf ports have already occurred; a bigger question is how New Orleans fares with Harvey.

"Flooding will definitely affect loadings at New Orleans and the Texas Gulf," said DTN cash grain analyst Mary Kennedy. "Depending on how long water issues linger, it could affect basis, both river basis and rail basis in affected areas."

Uncertainty over Harvey's impact on shipping reminds DTN senior analyst Darin Newsom of another big hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast -- Katrina in 2005.

"I can't help but think back ... though Katrina was much larger and hit New Orleans directly," Newsom said. "If Harvey stays to the west, it may not disrupt export and river traffic much. However, if it shifts, particularly with old-crop corn starting to move to the river market, it could cause a big problem."

Newsom also is cautious about future rainfall from Harvey. "Again, depending on where Harvey actually makes landfall and the path its remnants takes, we could see more precipitation in the Midwest as harvest tries to get under way. We already know the South could get flooded."

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