Nicholas hits Houston Area, threatening a foot of rain
By The New York Times
Tropical Storm Nicholas lashed weary residents with powerful wind gusts and heavy rain in Texas on Tuesday, sweeping across the Houston metropolitan area on a path toward Louisiana.
The center of the storm made landfall as a hurricane over the Gulf Coast of Texas just after 12:30 a.m. Central time on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula, about 10 miles west-southwest of Sargent Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center.
By 10 a.m. it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, and Nicholas was about 10 miles southeast of Houston. Its maximum sustained winds had eased slightly to 45 mph as it moved northeast at 6 mph.
“Overall, the storm is weakening as it continues to push inland,” said Tim Cady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Houston. “But conditions are improving.”
Cady said the storm would continue to lose intensity in the next 6-12 hours as it moved inland.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Lina Hidalgo, the top executive in Harris County, which includes Houston, said the worst of Nicholas appeared to be over and cleanup crews were beginning to assess damage.
Major flooding that had been the primary concern — and led to the closings of schools and businesses across the city — did not materialize, she said.
“Thankfully, thankfully, it became more of a wind event and it is moving out of our region,” she said.
Debris littered streets in many neighborhoods, but by midmorning, many Houstonians had resumed usual routines, walking dogs or driving around.
No deaths or serious injuries from the storm had been reported, Hidalgo said, nor major damage.
Power outages in the Houston area accounted for some of the most visible damage, Cady said.
About 387,000 customers in Texas were without electricity Tuesday morning, according to CenterPoint Energy, which said extended power outages were likely in the Houston area.
Nicholas was expected to bring up to a foot of rain to parts of coastal Texas, the center said, raising concerns for flash flooding. More than a foot of rain fell in Galveston, and some areas in Galveston County, which neighbors Houston, were inundated with up to 6 feet of water.
But some coastal communities had lighter rain and wind gusts as the morning wore on.
The threat of flash floods was expected to linger for several hours, especially in Louisiana, where Nicholas is headed, Cady said.
“It’s going to impact portions of Louisiana during the day today,” he said.
People are still recovering after Hurricane Ida battered the southern reaches of Louisiana two weeks ago.
The storm is forecast to move more slowly to the northeast later Tuesday, and then to pivot eastward over Louisiana on Wednesday, unleashing up to 10 inches of rain from the upper Texas coastal area into central to southern Louisiana, and southern Mississippi and Alabama, the center said.
Up to 20 inches of rain could fall in isolated storms in Louisiana.
Zach Davidson, spokesman for the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, said residents should remain cautious — even if the streets look manageable in their own neighborhoods.
“It may be all right where you are, but if you get on the road to go somewhere else and those roads get flooded, it becomes a very dangerous situation,” Davidson said.
Officials in Louisiana were also mindful of lessons from past storms.
“I know that bracing for another storm while we’re still responding to, and trying to recover from, Hurricane Ida is not the position that we wanted to be in,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “But it is a situation that we are prepared for.”
Nicholas formed Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico, the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.
It has been a dizzying couple of months for meteorologists as the arrival of peak hurricane season — August through November — led to a run of named storms that formed in quick succession, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to parts of the United States and the Caribbean.
Tropical Storm Mindy hit the Florida Panhandle on Sept. 8, just hours after it formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Larry, which formed Sept. 1, strengthened to a Category 3 storm two days later and then weakened. It struck Canada as a Category 1 hurricane and caused widespread power outages in Newfoundland.
Ida battered Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane Aug. 29 before its remnants brought deadly flooding to the New York area. Two other tropical storms, Julian and Kate, both fizzled out within a day at the same time.
Not long before them, in mid-August, Tropical Storm Fred made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and Hurricane Grace hit Haiti and Mexico. Tropical Storm Henri knocked out power and brought record rainfall to the northeastern United States on Aug. 22.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms. But the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Ana became the first named storm of the season May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic Ocean before the official start of the season June 1.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13-20 named storms this year, 6-10 of which would be hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be an above-average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.
NOAA updated its forecast in early August, predicting 15-21 named storms, including 7-10 hurricanes, by the end of the season Nov. 30.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.