Just last month, southeastern Texas saw some of the worst flooding in its history, described as “biblical” by many news outlets. Now, thanks to yet another spate of torrential rainfall, Texans are experiencing déjà vu all too soon.
Since the middle of last week, brief but intense thunderstorms—evocatively termed “rain bombs” by meteorologists—have been dropping far and wide across Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and the surrounding regions. By the weekend, major flooding along the Brazos river had swallowed homes, prompted the evacuation of 2,600 inmates from two federal prisons, and claimed at least six lives. On Monday, the 800-person town of Simonton, Texas was evacuated by air boat, high water vehicles, and dump trucks.
Southeastern Texas is no stranger to flash floods, thanks to an unfortunate combination of geology, geography, and infrastructure. The region’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico makes it a convergence zone for polar and tropical air masses, which tend to produce heavy rainfall when they meet up. In the Hill Country region that encompasses both San Antonio and Austin, shallow limestone bedrock impedes the flow of water, resulting in rapid runoff that quickly overflows narrow creek beds. Meanwhile, in sprawling metropolitan Houston, natural geological barriers give way to an artificial one—concrete—that leads to even more overland flow.
Not for the first time this spring, all of these factors have joined forces to yield record rainstorms and flooding across the state. The city of Brenham saw 16.64 inches of rain in just 24 hours last week, an amount that’s “simply off the charts,” according to a statement by the National Weather Service. The Brazos River, which runs from New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico, is predicted to crest today at a record 53.5 feet in Fort Bend County southwest of Houston. Under normal conditions, the water is less than 45 feet deep. Dramatic photos of the Brazos looking more like a Louisianan bayou than a river have been rolling in all week on social media.
Even as some waterlogged regions between Austin and Houston struggle to drain, meteorologists warn that more heavy rain and flooding are in the forecast for later this week. “It’s a very small break in a pretty bad situation,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kurt Van Speybroeck told the New York Times. “The soils are saturated, and the rivers are swollen and flooded.”
If you live in eastern or southern Texas, the National Weather Service recommends staying updated on local flood alerts via FEMA’s mobile app, or by registering for phone or email updates with your county. Stay vigilant, and please, for the love of God, do not attempt to drive through three feet of water.