The Flash Flood

The forecast predicts sunny skies, clear nights. And in Texas that doesn’t mean a thing.

Few weather events equal the flash flood in excitement. The very phrase sounds dangerous, conjuring visions of torrential rain that quickly transforms front yards into lakes and quiet streets into raging rivers and threatens to sweep the whole neighborhood into the Gulf of Mexico. One minute the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the brook is babbling; the next, the sky darkens, the rain begins, and it’s time to batten down the hatch. Little white lines of type float across the bottom of the TV screen, and an intrusive beeping sound announces the potential for flash flooding—a watch is declared if flooding is imminent or already occurring in the vicinity. Either way, it’s time for constant vigilance, for no event wreaks havoc quite so quickly or thoroughly as the flash flood.

Although Texas is a land of contrasts, you usually have to drive a thousand miles to discover that fact. A flash flood can save you the mileage. Within hours, drought can turn to flood. The rains that fell over the Hill Country on August 2, 1978, for example, broke a severe six-week dry spell by dumping more than twenty inches of precipitation in the headwaters of the Guadalupe, Medina, and Sabinal rivers in a few hours, causing record flow rates and numerous deaths.

If Texas seems to get more than its share of flash floods, that’s because its location between the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf attracts both rain-laden cold fronts from

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