Tropical storm Nicholas gathered strength Monday and threatened to blow ashore in Texas as a hurricane that could bring up to 50 centimetres of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast, including the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and storm-battered Louisiana.
Nearly all of the state’s coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system’s top sustained winds reached 96 km/h. If the winds hit 119 km/h, the storm would become a Category 1 hurricane. It was moving north at 19 km/h on a track to pass near the South Texas coast later in the day, then move onshore in the evening.
In flood-prone Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive late Monday and early Tuesday could inundate streets and flood homes.
Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
“This city is very resilient. We know what we need to do. We know about preparing,” said Turner, referencing four major floods that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey.
Schools, vaccination sites closed
Several schools in the Houston and Galveston areas were closed Monday because of the incoming storm. The Houston school district, the state’s largest, announced that classes would be cancelled on Tuesday.
COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites were closed in Harris County, which includes Houston; Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston; and Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi.
On Monday afternoon, Nicholas was centred roughly 113 kilometres southeast of Port Aransas, Texas, and 169 kilometres south of Port O’Connor, Texas. It was “moving erratically” just offshore, the hurricane centre said.
A hurricane watch was issued from Port Aransas to San Luis Pass.
Twenty to 40 centimetres of rain were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 50 centimetres possible. Other parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana could see 12.5 to 25 centimetres over the coming days.
“Listen to local weather alerts and heed local advisories about the right and safe thing to do, and you’ll make it through this storm just like you’ve had many other storms,” Abbott said during a news conference in Houston.
Not expected to match Harvey
Nicholas was headed toward the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey. That storm made landfall in the middle Texas coast then stalled for four days, dropping more than 152 centimetres of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
But University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said he expects Nicholas “will be magnitudes less than Harvey in every regard.”
Heavy rainfall from <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nicholas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Nicholas</a> has the potential to produce life-threatening flooding impacts across portions of the upper Texas Gulf Coast. Considerable flash flooding is also possible across portions of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. <a href=”https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb”>https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb</a> <a href=”https://t.co/FCNR9FVJI5″>pic.twitter.com/FCNR9FVJI5</a>
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding.
“The most severe threat to Louisiana is in the southwest portion of the state, where recovery from Hurricane Laura and the May flooding is ongoing,” Edwards said.
The storm was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago.
Across Louisiana, almost 120,000 customers remained without power Monday morning, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.
Still recovering from recent storm
While Lake Charles received minimal impact from Ida, the city saw multiple wallops from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta in 2020, a winter storm in February as well as historic flooding this spring.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said the city is taking the threat of the storm seriously, as it does all tropical systems.
“Hope and prayer is not a good game plan,” Hunter said.
In Cameron Parish in coastal Louisiana, Scott Trahan was still finishing repairs on his home from Hurricane Laura, which put about two feet of water in his house. He hopes to be finished by Christmas. He said many in his area have moved instead of rebuilding.
“If you get your butt whipped about four times, you are not going to get back up again. You are going to go somewhere else,” Trahan said.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.