A Review of Houston Heavy Rain Events in 2015-2016

April 16, 2016 Houston Flood Olivia Kintigh
Houston Tax Day Flood 2016

Houston, Texas rainfall was above average (49 inches) in 2015 and 2016. This was in sharp contrast to the 24 inch deficit in rainfall a few years prior. 2015 was the 5th wettest year on record for Houston, with 70.03 inches at KIAH and 77.13 inches at KHOU. Records at KIAH and KHOU, date back to 1889. Here’s a look back at the heavy rainfall events that resulted in these excessive totals:Read More »

Severe Storms Roll into the New Year

NCDC Level-II Data January 2017
NEXRAD Level-II reflectivity (left) and velocity (right) from 8:30am CST 01/02/17

It was a stormy and soggy start to 2017 for millions along the Gulf coast as a vigorous line of thunderstorms tracked from Southeast Texas to the Florida Panhandle on January 2nd. Sparked by an amplified trough of low pressure aloft, surface low pressure moved across Southeast Texas early Monday, causing widespread convection to form along and east of I-35. These storms moved quickly eastward through the morning hours, entering the Houston metro area after 7am CST.

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2015 Holiday Storm Retrospective

A powerful storm system tracked across the northern Great Plains this holiday season. Heavy snows and blizzard conditions were observed in the Dakotas, strong storms occurred in Kansas and Missouri, and an ice storm developed in areas between. Of significant note was a tornado report in Kansas that if confirmed would be the first tornado recorded on Christmas day in that state. In addition, wind gusts in excess of 70 mph were reportedIowa Environmental Mesonet Wind Speed Reports December 2016 in northwestern Iowa, causing structural damage in the area. These conditions are a stark reminder that like meteorologists, Mother Nature does not take the holidays off. Interestingly, a similar storm system impacted the southern plains last holiday season.

One year ago, a major storm system moved from Texas through the Great Lakes, capping off a year filled with extreme weather in Texas and beyond. Read More »

Remembering 2005’s Major Hurricane Rita in the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Rita made landfall in extreme southwestern Louisiana on September 24th, 2005 with an intensity of 100 knots (Category 3). About 48 hours earlier, Rita was a Category 5 hurricane with a minimum pressure of 895mb, the fourth-lowest central pressure on record in the Atlantic basin. Although Rita’s history was overshadowed by Katrina, which made landfall just a few weeks earlier, the storm provided a unique challenge for both forecasters and public officials.

NASA Rita Terra satellite_20050918
NASA satellite image of Tropical Depression Eighteen over the Bahamas on Sept. 18, 2005

Rita originated as a weak tropical wave off the western coast of Africa on September 7th. The Saharan Air Layer, commonly known as Saharan Dust, and high levels of wind shear prevented the wave from producing thunderstorm activity as it moved across the tropical Atlantic. Conditions became more favorable for development later in the month as the wave reached the Bahamas. A tropical depression formed on September 17th and the system was designated as Tropical Storm Rita the following afternoon.

Rita continued to strengthen as it tracked across the Florida Straits, reaching Category 2 status by the time it reached the Gulf of Mexico on the 20th. Over the next 18 hours, the storm underwent rapid intensification over the Loop Current, becoming a Category 5 storm with an intensity of 145 knots. Rita continued to intensify and recorded an incredible 70mb drop in central pressure in a 24-hour period. At maximum intensity on September 22nd, Rita’s central pressure was estimated to be 895mb with winds near 155 knots (178 mph).

NASA Aqua satellite_20050923
NASA satellite image showing Hurricane Rita approaching the Gulf coast on Sept. 23, 2005

Thankfully for the residents of the Gulf Coast, Rita did not maintain its unprecedented strength as it pushed ashore. After moving past the Loop Current the system gradually weakened to a Category 3 before making landfall near Sabine Pass as a major hurricane. Hurricane force winds spread over 150 miles from the center while tropical storm force winds stretched as far north as the Louisiana/Arkansas border. Peak storm surge of nearly 17 feet occurred on the eastern side of Rita, causing severe flooding in several parishes in southwestern Louisiana. Heavy rainfall worsened this situation, with most of southwestern Louisiana receiving 7-10 inches, with some areas receiving over 15.

Rita continued to progress northeastward after being absorbed by a front across the central United States. That accelerated movement prevented a significant flood event in the Ohio River valley, with most rainfall totals being limited to around 2-3 inches as the remnant low raced toward the Great Lakes.

Although meteorological impacts to extreme southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana were unforgettable, only seven direct deaths occurred as a result of Rita in the United States. Most citizens in the southwestern Louisiana coastal areas evacuated before the worst impacts arrived, likely significantly reducing the death toll in that area.

The majority of the storm’s causalities occurred during the evacuation iWWT Hurricane Rita Wind Speed Analysisn Texas, where poor planning and heightened fears, resulting from Katrina, resulted in mass gridlock around Houston. Over 100 Texans perished due to accidents, fires, and health related issues during the evacuation. Much work has since been done to streamline the evacuation process from the Houston area, including the streamlining of the contraflow process on major highways exiting the city.

 

 

Remembering 2008’s Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike produced devastating storm surge as it came ashore over the east end of Galveston Island on September 13th, 2008.

Formation & Impacts to the Caribbean

Ike originated as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa and moved west-northwest across the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) designated the system as a tropical depression on SepteNHC forecast track for Hurricane Ikember 1st. The storm became significantly better organized by the 3rd and was upgraded to a hurricane that afternoon. Early the next morning, Hurricane Ike reached major hurricane status (Category 4) with maximum sustained winds of 125 knots and an estimated central pressure of 935mbThe storm weakened over the next few days due to moderate wind shear from high pressure to the northwest. This high, over the western Atlantic, was strong enough to force an unusual turn to the west-southwest. This heightened the threat for the Bahamas and northwestern Caribbean. 

This uncharacteristic turn led Ike into a more favorable environment, causing the storm to re-intensify to Category 4 status. The cyclone made its first landfall on Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas the morning of September 7th. 5-7 inches of rain were reported on the island and high winds destroyed several structures including a cruise ship terminal.  The economic impacts for Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas was estimated between $50 and $200 million (USD). Additionally, Ike’s rainbands caused deadly flooding and mudslides in Haiti – a country still recovering from three tropical systems that hit earlier that year (Fay, Gustav, and Hanna).

Hurricane Ike continued tracking west and made its second landfall near Cabo Lucrecia, Cuba on the morning of September 8th. Winds were estimated to be 115 knots (Category 4 status) at landfall. Large waves, as high as 50 ft, were likely responsible for damaged coastal homes and structures in the city of Baracoa. As much as 12-14 inches of rain fell on parts of the island.  Additionally, over 300,000 homes were damaged, 13% of which were total losses.  Destruction of crops, roadways and buildings also resulted in an estimated $3 and $4 billion (USD) in damages.  

Gulf of Mexico & Early Impacts to the Oil & Gas Industry

The mountainous island weakened Ike to a Category 1 hurricane as it passed briefly over the waters south of Cuba and entered the Gulf of Mexico near San Cristóbal, Cuba on the evening of September 9th.  Since Ike had weakened and lacked a tight inner core, high nasa_trmmsatwinds and heavy rains spread over an unusually large area as the storm tracked northwest across the Gulf of Mexico: Tropical storm and hurricane force winds extended 240nm and 100nm, respectively, from the center. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite passed over Ike early on the 12th, showing rainfall rates in excess of two inches per hour in the southeast quadrant of the storm.

Early preparations for Hurricane Ike caused at least 14 oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana to be shut down in advance of the storm, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This was significant since over 1.3 million barrels per day of crude oil and over 7.3 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas could not be delivered to these facilities.

Landfall over Galveston Island, TX & Impacts to the United States & Canada

Ike maintained a large wind field over the central Gulf of Mexico as it tracked west-northwest toward the upper Texas coast through September 12th. In the hours before landfall, high water levels began impacting the Gulf coast as Ike turned north-northwest and strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane. Ike would make its third landfall along the northeast end of Galveston Island, TX early  on September 13th with maximum sustained winds near 95 knots (110 mph).

 

Ike Storm Surge Galveston Harris County Flood Control District

West of Grand Isle, Louisiana storm surge heights increased significantly: 10-13 feet from the southwest Louisiana coast to Port Arthur, Texas. The maximum storm surge recorded by any NOS tide gauge was 12.79 feet at Sabine Pass North, Texas. However, many USGS sensors indicated that there were likely localized areas with surge heights up to 17 feet. The Bolivar Peninsula and portions of Chambers County, Texas were most severely impacted by Ike’s storm surge. Most of this area was inundated by 10 feet of water. Widespread 5-7 inches of rain were reported across southeast Texas, with the highest amount measured north of Houston at 18.90 inches.  

NOAA Hurricane Ike Radar Loop

Tornadoes touched down in Texas (1), Louisiana (17), and Arkansas (9).  All of these were either EF0 or EF1 rating, which is typical within tropical air masses.  Storm-related fatalities totalled 19 in Texas, one in Louisiana, and one in Arkansas.  Damages across the three states totalled about $29.52 billion dollars, making it the second costliest hurricane to impact the United States, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Although Ike weakened inland, the storm merged with a cold front on the 14th, which resulted in hurricane force wind gusts and 3-5 inches of rain across the Ohio Valley, an area just flooded by a passing low pressure system the week before. Storm-related fatalities across Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania totalled 28.  Damage estimates for these states were nearly $4.7 billion. Hurricane force wind gusts and record rainfall were also reported across portions of southeastern Canada in the subsequent days.  

Remembering Galveston: The Great Hurricane of 1900

If you have been to Galveston, Texas, you are quite familiar with the city’s seawall. Construction began in 1902 as a response to the Great Hurricane of 1900, which devastated the city exactly 116 years ago today.

galveston1900On Sept. 4, 1900, Galveston was notified of a hurricane moving north of Cuba. Without the aid of modern forecasting technology, Galveston residents were unaware of the precise movement and potential track of the impending hurricane. As the hurricane progressed through the Gulf of Mexico it experienced rapid strengthening before it made landfall just a few miles southwest of Galveston. Meteorologists estimated winds of at least 130 miles per hour as the storm barreled through the city. With a storm surge of over 15 feet, Galveston was inundated with water. Residents received warnings of the hurricane the morning of Sept. 8, however many neglected the advisories. Texas’ fourth largest city had lost nearly 6,000 – 8,000 residents when the sun rose the next day. The Great Hurricane of 1900 is known as the “deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history”.Read More »