- The National Hurricane Center has upgraded Hurricane Harvey to a stronger-than-expected Category 4 storm.
- Residents on the Texas coast who have not yet evacuated should find a safe place and shelter there.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has asked President Donald Trump for a presidential disaster declaration ahead of Harvey's landfall Friday night.
As Hurricane Harvey trundled toward Texas on Friday it strengthened into a Category 4 storm, exceeding previous projections shortly before making landfall.
The National Hurricane Center upgraded the slow-moving, waterlogged storm to a Category 4 hurricane late Friday afternoon as its maximum sustained winds grew to 130 mph. The bulk of the storm is expected to make landfall Friday night.
"The tropical storm force winds have already commenced on the Gulf Coast," National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen told the AP. "You've essentially run out of time for outdoors preparations. You need to find a safe place and you need to stay there."
As the storm moves inland, it's not the wind that's giving experts pause ― it's the possibility of what the NHC is calling "life-threatening inundation."
Harvey is projected to drop 15 to 25 inches of rain on the middle and upper Texas coast, with some areas likely to see as much as 35 inches by the middle of next week. That's on top of coastal storm surge flooding of 6 to 12 feet, the NHC said.
"One of the things we know is that people tend to fixate on storm category," Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center, told HuffPost in an email. "But these categories are based on wind speed.
"Residents sometimes think 'Oh, I've been through higher category storms than that!' but then are surprised by the storm surge. ... Some people further inland might think 'we don't live along the coast' or 'the storm has turned away from us' without considering the huge impact of rains on their creeks and rivers, and rising flood waters can catch people by surprise."
With a metropolitan population of about 450,000, the city of Corpus Christi is expected to bear the initial brunt of the storm before it moves further inland.
At about the same time, the Corpus Christie Police Department announced it would respond to calls about life-threatening situations only "if conditions allow."
Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Matt Woolbright noted water levels in the city were rising quickly as of Friday morning, hours before the storm's arrival:
On Thursday, Mayor Joe McComb urged residents to be prepared, describing the situation as "almost at the threshold for mandatory evacuation."
Forecasters expect Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city and a major hub for the nation's oil refineries, to get at least 20 inches of rain. A disruption to shipping lanes there could devastate the local petrochemical economy, with ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy, similar to what happened with Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The National Hurricane Center warned Friday that Harvey may actually end up hitting Texas twice. Experts told The Associated Press Harvey could land first on the central coast, then stall out and shift back into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would strengthen again and potentially hit Houston sometime next week.
At roughly the same time Harvey strengthened into a Category 3 storm Friday, the coastal city of Galveston, near Houston, issued a tornado warning. Though the development wasn't unexpected, it nonetheless adds another element of danger to the situation
A late-afternoon tornado in the city reportedly damaged a McDonald's, ripping the golden arches from the restaurant's sign:
"Hurricanes will often create ideal weather conditions for tornadoes and severe rains that can destroy/make impassable evacuation routes," Curt Harris, an associate director at the University of Georgia's Institute for Disaster Management, explained to HuffPost in an email.
"Additionally, large amounts of water, flying debris and high winds can cause disruptions in utilities, sewage systems, and can leak environmental contaminants from destroyed industries," he added. "The irony is for all the water on the ground there is likely to be none that is potable for those that remain behind."
Despite the ominous forecast, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has no plans to close its roadside immigration checkpoints in Texas "unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents."
In a follow-up statement issued jointly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP said that in the event of an evacuation, "Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster proclamation ahead of Harvey's landfall for 30 counties in the state. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency for all of Louisiana.
President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that he's "closely monitoring" the situation and is "here to assist as needed."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also preemptively deployed 460 medical personnel and several mobile medical stations to the area.
According to Gary Webb, chairman of the Department of Emergency Management and Disaster Science at the University of NorthTexas, cooperation among all levels of government will be critical to handling Harvey, should it reach catastrophic levels.
"All disasters are local, but by their very nature large-scale crises create demands that exceed local capacity and require the intervention of higher-level governments," Webb told HuffPost in an email.
"I think most observers would agree that the governmental response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 showed dramatic improvements over the Katrina experience seven years earlier. Harvey will be our first big test since Sandy, and hopefully we will see continued improvements."
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.