20 September 2020

Flooding fears as storm heads towards Texas and Louisiana

20 September 2020

Tropical Storm Beta is heading towards the shores of Texas and Louisiana, causing concerns about heavy rain, flooding and storm surge across the Gulf Coast.

Beta is one of three named storms whirling in the Atlantic basin during an exceptionally busy hurricane season.

If the system makes landfall in Texas — which forecasters predict it will sometime on Monday — it would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental US in 2020. Colorado State hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said that would equal a record set in 1916.

Coastal communities began preparing for Beta over the weekend, with both the city of Galveston and Galveston County issuing voluntary evacuation orders. The city of Seabrook to the north of Galveston issued a similar order.

Satellite image of Tropical Storm Beta (AP)

Local officials said that high tides and up to 10 inches of expected rainfall would leave roads impassable, especially along the city’s west end and low-lying areas.

County Judge Mark Henry said that his concern is also based on rising waters creating a storm surge and that a mandatory evacuation is not expected.

“If you can survive in your home for three or four days without power and electricity, which we’re not even sure that’s going to happen, you’re OK,” Mr Henry said. “If it’s uncomfortable or you need life support equipment, maybe go somewhere else.”

Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 200 miles south-east of Galveston, Texas, the US National Hurricane Centre said on Sunday morning. The storm had maximum sustained winds at 60mph and was moving west-northwest at 3mph.

Little change in strength was expected as the system approaches Texas, forecasters said. Earlier predictions showed Beta could reach hurricane strength before making landfall.

A tropical storm warning was in effect from Port Aransas, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, where thousands of people remain without power more than three weeks after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coast, there are concerns that Beta could super-soak the region once again. Up to 20 inches of rain is possible in some parts of the area, said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Lake Charles.

“A lot of people have been saying, ‘Is this going to be like Harvey? Is this going to be like Imelda?’,” Mr Jones said. “We’re not talking about rainfall totals yet that are on the orders of magnitude that we saw with that.”

Imelda, which struck south-east Texas in 2019, was one of the wettest cyclones on record. Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston in 2017.

A woman gives her daughter a piggyback ride across a flooded area (AP)

However, if the storm ends up moving a bit slower than what’s being forecast now, rainfall totals could be even higher than 20 inches, Mr Jones said.

“Harvey was a very specific and unique event, but we are talking about the same idea in terms of very heavy, heavy rainfall,” he said.

Forecasters were predicting up to four feet of storm surge from Port Aransas, Texas, to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. Strong winds, and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions were also expected with the storm.

Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy remains a powerful hurricane, with maximum sustained winds at 105mph and moving west-northwest at 12mph. Teddy was centred 320 miles south-southeast of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the territory.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda. Large swells from Teddy were impacting the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the US east coast and Atlantic Canada, forecasters said.

Tropical Storm Wilfred was still at sea but expected to dissipate by Tuesday.

Parts of the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore on Wednesday. At least two deaths were blamed on the system.

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