Hurricane Nicholas hit the Texas coast Tuesday, bringing the possibility of up to 50.8 centimeters (20 inches) of rainfall to parts of the United States Gulf Coast, including the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and storm-battered Louisiana.
Nicholas touched down on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula, about 17 kilometers (10 miles) west southwest of Sargent Beach, Texas, with maximum winds of 120 kph (75 mph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Nicholas was the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.
The biggest unknown about Nicholas was how much rainfall it would produce in Texas, especially in flood-prone Houston.
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.
In Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive by 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 flood events that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey.
Numerous school districts along the Texas Gulf Coast canceled classes Monday because of the incoming storm. The Houston school district, the state’s largest, as well as others, announced that classes would be canceled on Tuesday. The weather threat also closed multiple COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas and forced the cancellation of a Harry Styles concert scheduled for Monday evening in Houston.
Six to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches (46 centimeters) possible. Other parts of southeast Texas and south-central Louisiana and southern Mississippi could see 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) 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.
Nicholas brought rain to 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 60 inches (152 cm) of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
After Harvey, voters approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood-control projects, including the widening of bayous. The 181 projects designed to mitigate damage from future storms are at different stages of completion.
But University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said he expects that Nicholas “will be magnitudes less than Harvey in every regard.”
The worry with Nicholas will be how slowly it moves. Storms are moving slower in recent decades, and Nicholas could get stuck between two other weather systems, said hurricane researcher Jim Kossin of The Climate Service.
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.
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 2 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 only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.