Wednesday 2 December, 2020

Tropical Storm Beta makes landfall, brings flooding to Texas

Water rises from the storm surge of Tropical Storm Beta in The Strand as the storm moves toward landfall, late Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Water rises from the storm surge of Tropical Storm Beta in The Strand as the storm moves toward landfall, late Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Storm surge and rainfall combined Tuesday to bring more flooding along the Texas coast after Tropical Storm Beta made landfall, threatening areas that have already seen their share of damaging weather during a busy hurricane season.

The storm made landfall late Monday just north of Port O'Connor, Texas. Early Tuesday, Beta was 35 miles (56 kilometres) north northwest of the city with maximum winds of 40 mph (64 kph), the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving toward the northwest near 3 mph (4 kilometres) and is expected to stall inland over Texas.

"We currently have both storm surge and rainfall going on right now," said National Weather Service meteorologist Amaryllis Cotto in Galveston, Texas.

Cotto said 6-12 inches (15-30 centimetres) of rain has fallen in the area, with isolated amounts of up to 18 inches (45 centimetres). Dangerous flash flooding is expected through Wednesday, Cotto said.

Beta was the ninth named storm that made landfall in the continental US this year. That tied a record set in 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. It also was the first time a Greek letter named storm made landfall in the continental US Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.

Beta will move inland over southeastern Texas through Wednesday and then over Louisiana and Mississippi on Wednesday night through Friday, and the biggest unknown from Beta was how much rainfall it could produce. Beta was expected to weaken into a depression, but flash flooding was possible in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi as the system moves farther inland.

Earlier predictions of up to 20 inches (51 centimetres) in some areas were downgraded Monday to up to 15 inches (38 centimetres).

Forecasters and officials reassured residents Beta was not expected to be another Hurricane Harvey or Tropical Storm Imelda. Harvey in 2017 dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimetres) of rain on Houston, causing $125 billion in damage in Texas. Imelda, which hit Southeast Texas last year, was one of the wettest cyclones on record.

Storm surge up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) was possible in the Galveston and Beaumont areas through Wednesday morning, forecasters said. In Galveston, an island city southeast of Houston, there was already some street flooding Monday from rising tides and part of a popular fishing pier collapsed due to strong waves.

Farther south on the Texas coast, Maria Serrano Culpepper along with her two daughters and dogs left their home in Magnolia Beach near Matagorda Bay on Sunday night.

Culpepper said she didn't want to be trapped in her home, three blocks from the beach, with wind, rain and possibly no electricity. She and her family evacuated to a friend's home in nearby Victoria.

Culpepper said her home should be fine as it's on stilts 13 feet (4 meters) off the ground and was built to withstand strong storms.

"I'm feeling OK now. I had two nights without sleeping because I was worried about (Beta) being a Category 1 hurricane. I calmed down when the storm lost power," said Culpepper, who works as an engineer at a nearby chemical plant.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 29 Texas counties ahead of Beta's arrival.

Beta is forecast to dump heavy rain on the southwestern corner of Louisiana three weeks after the same area got pounded by Hurricane Laura. The rainfall and storm surge prompted Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to declare a state of emergency.

In Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter worried about Beta's rainfall could set back efforts in his Louisiana community to recover after Laura, which damaged about 95 per cent of the city's 30,000 structures. Hunter said the worry of another storm was "an emotional and mental toll for a lot of our citizens."

Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore Wednesday, causing at least two deaths.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy continued its path toward Canada, with a predicted landfall in Nova Scotia early Wednesday before moving into Newfoundland on Wednesday night, forecasters said. The large and powerful storm was causing dangerous rip currents along the US East Coast, and tropical storm conditions were expected to begin in Nova Scotia by Tuesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center said.

Teddy was about 435 miles (695 kilometers) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, early Tuesday with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (155 kph). Teddy was expected to weaken later Tuesday and Wednesday but forecasters said it would likely be a strong, post-tropical cyclone when it moves in and over Nova Scotia.   

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