Hurricane Harvey is moving across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, heading toward the coast of Texas, and strengthening as it goes.
U.S. meteorologists say the former tropical storm will be a major hurricane by the time it makes landfall late Friday. Peak winds are blowing close to 140 kilometers per hour, and they are expected to surpass 200 kph when the hurricane hits a 600-kilometer-wide swath of coastline.
Hurricanes usually weaken rapidly once they move inland, but forecasters say this storm will follow an unusual pattern — stalling once it hits the coast, then probably moving back out to sea briefly and making a second drenching pass at low-lying coastal communities.
Harvey is expected to pour at least 50 centimeters of rain over a wide area of the Texas coast, with a deluge of up to 80 cm in some areas over the next three days.
The National Hurricane Center said "life-threatening" floods should be expected, along with storm surges.
Texans who live on the Gulf Coast have prepared for the storm with stacks of sandbags around particularly flood-prone areas. Residents crowded stores to buy water and other supplies to sustain them during what could be days of turmoil.
State, federal preparations
The last hurricane to hit the southern portion of the Texas coast was 14 years ago. The state's governor, Greg Abbott, ordered state emergency workers to mobilize for any necessary search-and-rescue operations.
He has pre-emptively declared a state of disaster in 30 counties on or near the coast to speed deployment of state resources.
At the White House, President Donald Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke, was "very involved" in directing federal emergency management resources to Texas.
DHS, the agency in overall command of federal emergency management, was formerly led by retired General John Kelly, now Trump's chief of staff. No replacement has yet been named, but Sanders said the nation was fortunate to have an experienced manager like Kelly in such a senior position at the White House.