In Texas, hurricane season is upon us — which doesn’t mean hurricanes are here. In fact, August and September bring the majority of tropical storms and hurricanes our way, long after the June 1 start of hurricane season.
But rains have no season, and steady, often torrential rains have plagued Texas for weeks. These have brought Brazos River overflows, and they caused as many as nine weather-related deaths over the Memorial Day weekend.
Just how wet is Texas? May of 2016 was the wettest month in recorded Texas history, according to the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University.
John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences and State Climatologist, attributed the deluges to several factors, including an active El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, which brings the jet stream over Texas. Also, there’s been a steady flow of moist, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, which becomes unstable when it undercuts the jet stream.
In Washington County, between Houston and Austin, over 16 inches of rain fell in some areas recently, including 10 inches which fell in just a three-day period. With rising waters, over 100 persons had to seek refuge in emergency shelters.
More than 40 other persons had to be rescued in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, when floodwaters invaded their neighborhoods. In fact, dozens of Texas rivers have been in flood stages recently, particularly in Central and Southeast Texas.
Commutes often have been nearly impossible in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth and other cities where the National Weather Service has issued flash flood watches.
The Brazos River, which runs through Waco toward the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to crest three feet higher than the previous record high, this time at 53.8 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
According to the Brazos River Authority, all 11 of the reservoirs fed by the Brazos River reached 95-100 percent capacity.
NWS meteorologists said the Brazos River’s high point would come in Fort Bend County and would exceed record levels reached in 1994. Around 1,000 persons had to be evacuated from suburbs in that Houston-area county.
What’s worse, water isn’t the only enemy when floodwaters rise. In Rosenberg, also near Houston, the rising tide of floodwater brought debris, ants and water moccasin snakes into homes and businesses.
This added insult to injury for many persons, since about 150 Rosenberg homes had to be evacuated. Imagine being forced to abandon your home.
Houston’s Meyerland area has been especially hard-hit. Dozens of homes which had been flooded just 11 months previously were flooded again in April as torrential rains swept the city. At least 100 Meyerland homes were flood damaged.
Indeed, the city’s bayou system has been overwhelmed and ineffective in preventing high waters.
As for what you can do in a flood, federal weather experts advise that persons seeing water rising toward their homes first go to an upper floor, attic or roof before evacuating.
If evacuation is necessary, turn off all of your utilities at the main power switch and close your main gas valve. Also, don’t try to walk across flowing streams which could sweep you away, and avoid getting close to power lines and electrical wires.
Wear protective gear or clothing if possible, and if your body comes in contact with floodwaters, wash with soap and disinfected water at the first opportunity.
As a driver, never drive into rising waters. Back up and go the other way. Also avoid walking even in calm floodwaters, which still can bring sewage, germs, disease, snakes, spiders, fire ants and even alligators.
And of course, always keep track of weather predictions via a radio or cell phone and respond accordingly.
So you see, hurricanes aren’t the only wet threat to beleaguered Texans along the Gulf Coast. All we can do is to be smart and prepare for rising water emergencies — and wait for the sun to come out.