Tropical Storm Cindy makes landfall in Texas
As Thursday began, Houston area residents were bracing themselves for Tropical Storm Cindy’s landfall, while in rainy Galveston others were shrugging off the storm’s impact and enjoying night surfing along the beach and swimming in hotel pools.
Earlier, some planes were delayed at Bush Intercontinental Airport due to high winds and a few power outages were reported.
The tropical storm, the first system of hurricane season that may affect the Houston area, is expected to barrel in early Thursday morning bringing winds as high as 50 mph, heavy rains and flooding to portions of southeast Texas and the Gulf Coast.
By late Wednesday, it was moving northwest, causing forecasters to predict rainfall as the main threat to the Houston area.
“This is a good test run,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said late Wednesday. “Hopefully everybody now pays attention that we are in hurricane season.”
The storm is expected to make landfall Thursday morning between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. Some coastal areas along southeast Texas were already seeing an impact, with Galveston experiencing gusts of wind exceeding 40 miles per hour. Tree limbs were down in some coastal areas and isolated power outages had affected the region.
Power outages knocked out service to about 800 homes and businesses about 7:45 p.m. in Galveston, though service was quickly restored.
Minor coastal flooding could impact the Bolivar Peninsula and portions of Galveston Island, the weather service reported. Wind speeds could cause some residents to face some isolated power outages.
Even after the tropical system passes through Houston, the weekend is expected to be a rainy one with slightly cooler temperatures in the upper 80s.
Tropical Storm Cindy formed earlier this week near the Yucatan Peninsula and was expected to move inland near the Texas-Louisana line, shifting the worst of the heavy rains and flooding away from Houston and into southern Louisiana and Mississippi.
Alabama and portions of Florida were also expected to get heavy rains and some flooding, with a tropical storm warning posted from San Luis Pass at the southern end of Galveston Island to the Florida Panhandle.
Rainfall of 1-3 inches was expected in Harris County, with the heaviest rains early Thursday morning. Tropical storm warnings were also in effect for Chambers, Galveston and Liberty counties.
The storm has already turned deadly, killing a 10-year-old boy in Fort Morgan, Alabama, on Wednesday when a large log struck him due to the storm surge. Across the country, the tropical system also affected those in the Florida Panhandle, damaging homes and vehicles. Trees fell on houses and also hit cars, according to local officials.
Flooding caused some roads to carry knee deep water reported in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Tornadoes also reportedly touched down near Biloxi, Mississippi.
Offshore, operators reported pulling workers from 40 oil and gas production platforms, or about 5 percent of the more than 700 manned platforms in the Gulf, and one drilling rig, according to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. BP evacuated non-essential personnel from its Mad Dog and Atlantis platforms, but did not expect the storm to be severe enough to warrant total evacuation.
“Our top priority is the safety of all personnel and protecting the environment,” BP said. “We remain prepared to respond as conditions warrant.”
In Houston, emergency officials, residents and area businesses prepared in various ways for the impending storm.
“We spend pretty much the whole day picking up debris,” said Mike Dishberger, past president of the Greater Houston Home Builders Association and owner of Sandcastle Homes. “Work slows down to a crawl.”
In Galveston, city officials hoped the storm’s impact would be minimal. A voluntary evacuation was ordered for the Bolivar Peninsula, which has been hard hit for decades by flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms.
Some residents packed to move as others braced for the storm. TxDOT crews worked to remove debris and place barricades where needed along the roadways, which already by mid-afternoon were overtaken periodically by strong waves in some areas. Power outages knocked out service to about 800 homes and businesses about 7:45 p.m. in Galveston, though service was quickly restored. Even as the storm drew nearer after nightfall, some Galvestonians were set on making the best of it with after-dark surfing.
“I can’t wait to go out there, it’s gonna be awesome,” said Gino Weedman, 21. “I’ll use the lights from the oil rigs.”
He acknowledged pre-storm night-surfing could be dangerous, but cited one advantage: “You can’t see death coming.”
“Night adds more excitement to it,” he added. But for all his enthusiasm about the prime surfing conditions, the lifelong Galveston resident remembers Ike and knows the possibility of real danger could be out at sea.
“You never know what is coming,” he said. “I expect anything to hit here.
At one Galveston hotel pool, a few swimmers frolicked shortly before midnight in the rain.
At a quiet crossroads in Cheek in Jefferson County on Wednesday, several people filled sandbags in the soupy, dripping evening.
“Every time it rains, the street floods,” said Sean Williams, a pipe fitter from nearby Beaumont, as he filled 20 sandbags.
Terence Simon, a Beaumont fire fighter who was filling bags for his mom, said residents shouldn’t be too relaxed about Cindy.
“You can’t be too careful with a tropical storm,” he said. “Allison was a tropical storm that settled over Houston and dumped a ton of rain. ... I’m thinking this could be one of those.”
For Houston, sustained winds are expected to range from 20 to 30 mph, but residents along Galveston Bay may see even stronger winds, with gusts up to 40 mph
Outside of Texas, the storm is expected to produce 6 to 9 inches with isolated maximum amounts up to 15 inches over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and western portions of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night. This rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding in those areas.
Forecasters predict the storm will weaken to a tropical depression by the time it reaches Arkansas early Friday and arrives in Virginia and Delaware by Saturday.
Cindy started as a disorganized system near the Yucatan Peninsula, but spent most of Tuesday building up over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, it strengthened into a named tropical storm.
The heaviest rains were expected to be east of Interstate 45, said Brian Kyle, National Weather Service meteorologist.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who joined Emmett at a press conference Wednesday, urged residents not to let up on their guard.
“If you don’t have to be out late ... , certainly turn around, don’t drown,” Turner said.
Residents took the threat seriously enough on Wednesday, stripping store shelves of bottled water and stocking up on canned goods, flashlights, batteries and other supplies. Some stores were nearly out of stock by Wednesday morning.
Emergency responders, transportation and flood control experts remained on alert late Wednesday in case the storm took a turn for Houston.
The Texas Department of Transportation identified more than 35 locations around the greater Houston area where officials expected high water to collect in case barricades were needed to stop people from driving into the high water.
On Wednesday, crews started fanning out to probable locations where they would be needed to address street flooding.
Officials along the Houston Ship Channel also took precautions, but the storm posted a larger threat to the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which includes Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange, and the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which includes the Port of Lake Charles in Louisiana.
The Coast Guard said it activated a coordination team ahead of the storm in the Sabine and Lake Charles areas, but not in Houston.
“It is just far enough to the east of us here in Houston that Coast Guard measures to close the port were not warranted,” said Steve Nerheim, director of the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Services for Houston and Galveston.
Capt. Robert Shearon, presiding officer for the Houston Pilots who guide ships in and out of the Houston Ship Channel, said they will monitor the situation closely.
“This is an early wakeup call for what we might expect this season,” Shearon said.
Reporters St. John Barned-Smith, Mike Glenn, Margaret Kadifa, Keri Blakinger, Andrea Rumbaugh, Blake Paterson, Dylan Baddour, Ryan Maye Handy, David Hunn, Collin Eaton and Dug Begley contributed to this report contributed to this report.