Relentless rain unleashed catastrophic floods across southeast Texas this past weekend. Coming out of a prolonged drought, officials say this was the worst flooding the region has seen in years.
In Houston, more than 10 inches of rain fell Monday night into Tuesday morning. With the ground already saturated from plentiful spring rains, rivers and bayous swelled out of their banks. The floodwaters inundated homes, businesses, and major roadways, paralyzing large parts of this country’s 4th largest city. Rainfall rates reached as high as 4 inches per hour, which prompted the NWS to issue a flash flood emergency – the highest level of flood alert – for the area. Local officials say 3 people were killed and more than 80,000 people lost power as a result of the flood.
On Sunday, torrential rain in Hays County, TX caused the Blanco River to rise more than 30 feet in 3 hours. Before the river gauge was washed away, it reported a crest of 40.21 feet, which is about 7 feet above the previous record set in 1929. Officials there say the raging water destroyed more than 350 homes and that 13 people are still missing.
Just north of Texas, the Oklahoma City area also experienced severe weather and flooding this holiday weekend. Across both states, floodwaters caused a number of fatalities. The combined death toll currently stands at 14, but is expected to rise.
The intensity of these rain events had two main drivers. First, a mass of warm and deeply saturated air moved north from the Gulf of Mexico. It then ran into a deep dip in the jet stream, which has been locked in place over the western states recently. This collision triggered intense thunderstorms that wrung tremendous amounts of moisture out of the air. The result was a series of deadly and destructive deluges across the region.
The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, has declared 37 counties from the Red River to the Rio Grande to be disaster areas as a result of recent weather events. More rain, unfortunately, is forecast for the region this week.
Flooded roadway in Houston. Credit: KTRK