Torrential Rain, Floods in Texas, Oklahoma
By John Lawrence
The Blanco River overran its banks sweeping houses and people in its course. At least 41 people have died in the severe weather over the past several days, from either tornadoes or flooding brought on by epic rainfall. Those deaths include 29 in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven people have been missing for a week. In Mexico at least 13 people died in a tornado that hit the border city of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. At least 200 homes were destroyed.
I’ll bet you one thing: no one in the media will mention the words: GLOBAL WARMING. But what else can you say when 11 inches of rain fall in six hours? With that much rain in such a short time, any river is subject to flash flooding?
It was the first time in recent memory that a major city, Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, was hit by a weather related disaster. Some 1,400 structures in Houston suffered severe damage. At least 2,500 abandoned vehicles were scattered across Houston roadways after drivers sought higher ground. About 530 water-related calls were handled by Houston emergency crews. The flooding in Houston affected virtually every part of the city.
On the last day of May heavy rain caused minor flooding inside Minute Maid Park as the Houston Astros hosted the Chicago White Sox. Thunderstorms have been battering areas of rain-weary Houston with heavy downpours and small hail. The city’s primary electric provider, CenterPoint Energy, reported more than 18,000 customers without power as the late afternoon storms moved through. Outages primarily have been immediately to the west of downtown Houston and in the far north and northeast sections of the city.
A dam ruptured in Bastrop, Texas, sending an unrelenting wave of water downstream, flooding roads and forcing water rescues to be conducted. A tornado struck a drilling rig in Canadian causing several injuries. At least three people were taken to a local hospital.
Hays County and the town of Wimberley were especially hard hit. The Blanco River rose 28 feet in an hour and a half. It’s still rising and expected to crest at more than 50 feet. A house with eight people inside floated down the river. In Parker County, Texas, west of Fort Worth, authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for 250 homes along the Brazos River. The Colorado River crested at 42.5 feet Saturday at Wharton, 3.5 feet above flood stage.
In Oklahoma City the month of May set a record for the wettest on record with over 17 inches or precipitation. The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, had issued 70 flash flood warnings so far this year, a total higher than the last four years combined. Several highways were closed.
This is from EcoWatch:
With at least a dozen people dead and the raging high waters described as having “tsunami-type power” in Texas over the Memorial Day weekend, the latest example of extreme weather in the U.S. is being tied to a global pattern of increasingly volatile events that are claiming lives and costing billions of dollars in damage each year. […]
“So far in 2015—as in preceding years—weather-related disasters have destroyed or disrupted millions of lives and livelihoods,” said WMO [World Meteorological Organization] Secretary-General Michel Jarraud ahead of the meeting. Citing devastating events like Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, major droughts in India, California, and Brazil, and the kind of flooding that recently struck Chile and now being seen in Texas, Jarraud said the “list of extreme events is long and there is growing scientific evidence that at least some of them would have been unlikely without human-induced climate change.”
With the next round of UN climate talks slated for later this year in Paris, Jarraud affirmed that the WMO’s efforts will be aimed at addressing the threat of increasingly extreme weather caused by global warming. “It is a pivotal year for action on behalf of future generations,” he said. “We have more than a responsibility. We have a moral duty to take action to limit climate change. If we don’t do it we will be judged by our children and our grandchildren.”
A large portion of a highway in Dallas will be closed for a week due to flooding and rain. Morning rush hour was brought to a halt. More than seven inches of rain slammed the area. More than 200 people needed emergency rescues after flash flooding submerged cars.
The National Weather Service said Friday that 16.07 inches of rain fell across the Dallas area in May. That easily eclipsed a 1982 record of 13.66. Austin similarly beat its May record for rainfall with 17.59 inches, besting a high of 14.10 inches that had stood since 1895.
A state of disaster has been declared in 70 counties in Texas. Meteorologist Dennis Cain in Dallas says other areas have set all-time recorded highs, such as Gainesville, near the Oklahoma border, and Corpus Christi, along the Gulf of Mexico. Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle is in its second-wettest month on record.
Hundreds Dead from Heat Wave in India
118 degree F heat caused over 2200 deaths mainly from heat stroke. Heatwave conditions have prevailed since April. Most of the deaths occurred in older people or people working outdoors. Temperatures reached 113 degrees in New Delhi. Commuters can’t drive because the roads are melting. Climate change is a likely factor, according to Benjamin Cook, a research scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
About two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people have access to electricity. That would mean that in India alone about 400 million people do not have reliable access to air conditioning and refrigeration.
This is from Common Dreams:
According to officials quoted in the Hindustan Times, most of the victims have been construction workers, the elderly or the homeless. In regions across the subcontinent this week, temperatures have sweltered populations with thermometers pushing towards 50°C (or 122°F) and high levels of humidity stifling air quality. In response, India’s Meteorological Department has issued what are called “red box” warnings for various states where the maximum temperatures are expected to remain above 45°C.
“This year, the heatwave condition is unprecedented and there has been a large number of deaths. The Health Ministry is likely to come up with an advisory soon for all the states and common people,” a senior health Ministry official told the Press Trust of India (PTI).
As with ongoing flooding in Texas and Oklahoma in the United States this week, the extreme heat in India has been attributed to the convergence of seasonal weather patterns beset by the El Nino in the Pacific Ocean and the overall impact of increased global temperatures due to human-caused climate change. According to the International Business Times:
Experts say an El Nino, which leads to a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, triggers scorching weather across Asia.
However, even without an El Nino the global warming in the last few decades has potential for damage.
“On account of 0.8 degree warming during the past hundred years, one must expect more heat waves even without an El Nino. El Nino will increase the atmospheric temperature and hence add to the problems created by global warming,” J Srinivasan, chairman, Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science told IB Times UK.
Additionally, as the Times of India reported earlier this week, a recent study by the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned that specific areas [in] India, including highly-populated urban enclaves like Hyderabad, can expect more hot days in the future thanks to the global warming.
If you think the heat wave this year is the worst, prepare for tougher times ahead. Hyderabad is likely to get hotter in the next few years, with the average number of severe heatwave days increasing.
Generally the city suffers a maximum of five heatwave days’ in a year. According to experts, this number will go up to as many as 40 days per year in the future. […]
A heat wave’ day is when the temperature is five degrees Celsius or more than the average temperature recorded on that particular day over the last three decades. For example, the temperature recorded on Saturday was 43.6 degrees Celsius against a normal maximum temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius recorded on the same day in the last few years. According to the Met officials, this is five degrees Celsius more than the normal temperature.
Are Texas Floods a Consequence of Global Warming?
Texas has been hit with almost continuous storms for the past two weeks. The wettest area has been from Dallas-Fort Worth to the Red River, where some places have gotten more than 20 inches of rain in May. More than 35 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in Texas in May setting a record for rainiest month ever. That’s enough to cover all of Texas in eight inches of water. President Obama signed a disaster declaration for Texas. More rain fell during the last weekend in May. May set records for wettest month in both Texas and Oklahoma.
Nobody in Texas will even admit that this recent extreme weather might be due to Global Warming. You will never see a TV interview with one of the victims in which global warming is ever mentioned. Major media organizations have managed so far to keep it out of the news altogether. They will cover only the disasters because they are spectacles and people like to gawk. It’s the same with murders and riots. However, rational inquiry into the cause of the disasters doesn’t sell and doesn’t attract viewers; therefore, they don’t do it.
Lori Saldaña says
John- thank you for an important and timely discussion of recent events that need to be taken into account as planning for coastal infrastructure continues in San Diego and elsewhere. Is anyone adjusting engineering and design to take these powerful storms into account?
Many states- no, nations- are dealing with similar hyper-weather events: rainfall either missing, or beyond all recalled intensity and duration. Tornadoes with unprecedented power.
And in Baja, a day south: it’s shaping up to be another year of back to back hurricanes, already lining up to batter the peninsula in alphabetical order: Anna, Blanca… so far…
One comment struck me: “It was the first time in recent memory that a major city, Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, was hit by a weather related disaster.”
Houston has certainly been impacted, if not directly hit, before: 10 years ago, they were hit by a human wave of suffering. Remember the “climate refugees” who “flooded” Houston after New Orleans was savaged by Katrina’s August 2005 deluge? Remember living in the Domed stadium (which is it- Astro or Super?) and Barbara Bush saying how they were “better off”… ugh…
I was in Sacramento, near the end of legislative session, watching in horror in the Assembly Chamber, as the CNN website showed bodies floating down the streets, people trapped for days on rooftops… and Anderson Cooper making a name for himself.
Have we learned so little in 10 years about climate change and the impacts on people’s lives?
How many of those refugees moved to Houston- and never returned? How any PTSD cases were triggered with these latest downpours and flooding…
So much has changed… yet so little.
John Lawrence says
Lori, thanks for your insightful comment. Even sub-hurricane force and sub-tornadic winds can cause a huge amount of damage which we are seeing more and more in “average” precipitation events.
Grace Rich says
How can the media be so irresponsible as to not mention climate change as a major part of the Texas floods?. In Tucson I have been watching most of the coverage on TV and it is never mentioned Obviously the warming in the Gulf of Mexico has created tremendous precipitation moving into Texas and is shown in diagrams on the news but climate change must have become a taboo topic. They must be afraid their advertisers will cancel. Well, we are in for a disasterous ride. Mother nature bats last! Thanks for this informative article, John
Bob - Vietnam war vet. says
Very powerful article! I do forensic research and when I look at what happened in Texas, especially Houston, I have to ask, “Why hasn’t Texas built a dry lake close to Houston so that these flood waters could be drained / pumped out, avoiding all of this damage to the city? News stories talked about how flat Houston is and how the soil has a lot of clay, so the water doesn’t get absorbed into the earth. A sewer system that would rapidly move heavy rain water to a dry lake could greatly reduce or eliminate flooding in Houston. And, the dry lake, when filled with rain water, could be a valuable source for the city and, or, farmers. What do you think? Sure sounds like a simple and relatively cheap way to avoid this massive flood damage.
Betty DeGroat says
Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head!
John Lawrence says
Bob, Your idea is a very good one. It seems obvious to me that much work in terms of mitigation needs to be done to prevent all these floods. It’s why dams and reservoirs were created in the first place – to prevent flooding. Additionally as you point out, reservoirs are a valuable source of much needed water. Without them, precious water just runs off and is wasted. Problem is this comes under the heading of infrastructure, and Republicans are dead set against spending any money on infrastructure. There are many other infrastructures needs as well – roads and bridges just being 2 of them. They will spend money on war, but raising taxes to pay for infrastructure which would create jobs and help the economy is a no-no.