As summer 2017 drew to a close, for the first time in 166 years of weather records, two Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes hit the United States in the same season—just 16 days apart. Each brought its own superlatives: Harvey, the continental U.S.’s wettest storm ever, drenched southeast Texas with as much as 51 inches of rain, while Irma maintained a devastating maximum wind speed of 185 mph over a record- setting 37-hour period. Among Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, where both storms brutally battered small island nations before making landfall on the continent, more than 130 lives were lost, and early estimates of total damages are approaching $300 billion.
In some ways, both hurricanes proved less severe than expected. In Houston—the Harvey victim with the highest visibility—most hospitals in the Medical Center and many major cultural buildings (including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which is undergoing a significant expansion by Steven Holl Architects and Lake|Flato) went largely unscathed, apart from the expected flooding of below-grade construction sites and subterranean garages. Inhabitants of residential neighborhoods built on higher ground, located in the upper reaches of watersheds, and equipped with good drainage infrastructure saw significantly less flooding, with little to no water entering buildings.
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