Hi, Tropical #Bill: What to Expect, How to Stay Safe, and Who Will Get Hit the Worst
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If you’re reading this, you probably know that a storm is coming. You might even have a couple of (likely unnecessary) cases of bottled water stashed on a high shelf in your house somewhere. Buying up all the bottled water at the HEB probably isn’t the smartest or most neighborly move (why not fill your own containers with tap water and save the bottled water for those who will require it in an actual emergency?) but there are definitely other things a person can do to prepare. Here’s what you need to know about #Bill:
The Path of the Storm
Bill made landfall in Texas over Matagorda Island at 11:45 a.m. It had 60 mile per hour winds when it came ashore, but that’ll likely weaken as it spends time over land. However, because of how wet Texas is at the moment, there’s been talk of a “brown ocean” effect, wherein a storm actually strengthens over land:
While tropical storms usually gather power from the warm waters of the ocean and then weaken once they move over land, NASA-funded research has shown some storms can actually strengthen over land by drawing from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture, Shepherd said. The phenomenon is known as the “brown ocean” effect.
“All the things a hurricane likes over the ocean is what we have over land right now,” said Shepherd, one of the principals who conducted the research. . . .
Shepherd said it won’t be immediately known if the brown ocean effect holds true for this storm but an indicator will be whether it forms an eye while well inland.
Still, whether or not the storm forms an eye inland, there’s going to be a whole lot of rain coming.
Essentially, it looks like the storm plans to move from Houston to San Antonio, then head straight up Interstate 35 to Oklahoma City, where it will then take I-45 through to St. Louis. Predictions on Monday had the storm maintaining its strength through the Midwest. The projection above from the Weather Channel suggests that the storm will fizzle out around Indiana, but that isn’t necessarily a given. The “ring of fire” pattern that would extend the storm all the way to New York is still a possibility.
However, right now it looks as if the parts of Texas facing the biggest risk are the parts of Texas that got hit the worst in the storms around Memorial Day—and unfortunately, those are the parts that are among the most flash-flood prone regions in the world. Early predictions had the bulk of the rain falling east of Austin, with areas like La Grange and College Station getting hit harder, but those projections also appear to have been modified, as Travis County officials are now warning:
Stacy Moore-Guajardo, the county’s assistant emergency management coordinator, said her office was told by the National Weather Service that the storm had taken a western turn and would be hitting the county harder than originally expected.
“We are anticipating additional rain and potential flooding,” she said.
The already soaked ground will increase the risk of quick flash flooding, she said.
“We cannot handle an additional 8 inches of rain when our soil is already so saturated.”
Meanwhile, not much is expected to change from the projections faced by Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, all of which should continue to expect severe rainfall.
What to Expect
Basically the entire eastern half of the state of Texas is under a flash-flood watch through Thursday. The real concern here is the rain more than the wind—but don’t ignore the power of the wind as it’s easier for tree and power lines to come down when the ground is saturated.
The heaviest rain will land on what’s known meteorogically as the “dirty side” of the storm (seriously), which is essentially everything to the right of the storm’s path on the map. Beyond rainfall, the threats include some serious surf and rip currents, which—if you needed it—is another good reason to stay out of the Gulf. For those who were planning to vacation this week on the beaches in Galveston, Port Aransas, or Corpus Christi, it’d probably be prudent to see if you can get a refund.
If flooding does occur and causes more damage, there’s actually a silver lining in the timing here. While there’s been some chatter that federal disaster relief could be tougher to obtain given the opposition to disaster relief funding that some Texas politicians have expressed about other states, the proximity of the two storms should actually make it easier to make our case, if it’s required.
While the Memorial Day weekend flooding will potentially make the incoming severe weather more dangerous, the proximity of the weather events could make federal disaster relief smoother since any additional damage could be lumped in with the May flooding, Moore-Guajardo said.
The physical recovery from the Memorial Day weekend is wrapping up relatively soon, from a county perspective. Steve Manilla, who leads the county’s transportation and natural resources department, said crews have been collecting debris in precincts 1 and 3, and should wrap up this week.
How to Prepare
Here’s some more good news: If you were at risk of flooding around Memorial Day, then you probably already know what to do. Pack a bag that you can grab if flooding is imminent, and be prepared to leave if necessary. If there’s higher ground to move your car to near where you live, consider parking there. Here’s a list of parking garages in Houston to shelter your car, if you’re concerned about the engine flooding. Along those lines, now is a terrific time to fill up your gas tank, if you haven’t already. If you’ve got pets, stash some food and a bowl for water in your bags—you’ll be glad you did—and make alternate escape plans now in the event that the most obvious evacuation route is flooded. As The Vane suggests:
Keep your cell phone charged, your gas tank at least half full, and make sure you can quickly access cash, important documents, and enough prescription medication to last you a couple of days if you need to evacuate in a hurry or if the power goes out. Cash is especially important in the latter instance—your cards are worthless pieces of plastic if the power goes out or the telephones go down.
Not many people can afford to put their lives on hold for some heavy rain, so just about everyone affected by the storm over the next couple of days will go about their day to the best of their ability. Be proactive about your own safety. If you know that one of the roads on your route to work or school or home has a tendency to flood, find alternate routes now so you don’t get stuck or, worse, trapped in floodwaters.
“Turn around, don’t drown” isn’t just a catchy slogan, either: it doesn’t take much water to float a car, and if you can’t see what’s underneath the water, you can’t be 100 percent certain that there’s a functioning road there. Rain can damage bridges and overpasses, and there’s going to be a whole lot of that.
Also, don’t be fooled by the fact that this storm carries the not particularly threatening name of “Bill.” Weirdly, that’s an actual concern—studies have shown that storms whose names are less intimidating (i.e., usually storms named after women) get taken less seriously than storms with a fiercer moniker. And while Bill sounds like he might be an uncle who shows up in a Hawaiian shirt and pleated shorts to overstay his welcome and drink all your beer, it’s simply the National Weather Service’s naming convention to start it with a male name that begins with “B.” Just imagine that it’s Tropical Storm Bloodfang or Bahamut, and monitor the situation accordingly.