Los Angeles Times
Gulf Coast drenched
Downgraded Nicholas brings rain to Texas, Louisiana.
SURFSIDE BEACH, Texas — Tropical Storm Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression early Tuesday evening after slowing to a crawl over southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana but still drenching the area with flooding rains.
The downgrade came the same day Nicholas blew ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, knocking out power to half a million homes and businesses and dumping more than a foot of rain along the same area swamped by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Nicholas could potentially stall over storm-battered Louisiana and bring life-threatening floods across the Deep South over the coming days, forecasters said.
Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm.
As night approached Tuesday, its center was 60 miles east-northeast of Houston, with maximum winds of 35 mph as of 7 p.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. However, weather radar showed the heaviest rain Tuesday afternoon was over southwestern Louisiana, well east of the storm center.
The storm is moving east-northeast at 6 mph. The National Hurricane Center said the storm may continue to slow and even stall, but heavy rainfall and a significant flash-flood risk will continue along the Gulf Coast for the next couple of days.
Galveston, Texas, saw nearly 14 inches of rain from Nicholas, while Houston reported more than 6 inches. That’s a fraction of what fell during Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain in southeast Texas over a four-day period.
In the small coastal town of Surfside Beach about 65 miles south of Houston, Kirk Klaus, 59, and wife Monica Klaus, 62, rode out the storm in their two-bedroom home, which sits on stilts.
“It was bad,” Kirk Klaus said. “I won’t ever do it again.”
He said it rained all day Monday, and as the night progressed, the rainfall and winds got worse.
Around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the strong winds blew out two of his home’s windows, letting in rain and forcing the couple to continually mop their floors. Kirk Klaus said the rainfall and winds created a storm surge of about 2 feet in front of his home.
“It looked like a river out here,” he said.
Nearby, Andrew Connor, 33, of Conroe, Texas, had not been following the news at his family’s rented Surfside Beach vacation house and was unaware of the storm’s approach until it struck. The storm surge surrounded the beach house with water, prompting Connor to consider using surfboards to take his wife and six children to higher ground if the house flooded.
The sea never made its way through the door, but it did flood the family sport utility vehicle, Connor said.
“When I popped the hood, I had seaweed and beach toys and all that stuff in my engine,” he said.
Nicholas is moving so slowly that it will dump several inches of rain as it crawls over Texas and southern Louisiana, meteorologists said. This includes areas already struck by Hurricane Ida and devastated by Hurricane Laura last year. Parts of Louisiana are saturated, with nowhere for the extra water to go, so it will flood, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
“It’s stuck in a weak steering environment,” McNoldy said of Nicholas. Though the storm may weaken, “that won’t stop the rain from happening.”
More than half a million homes and businesses lost power in Texas, but that number had dropped below 200,000 by late Tuesday afternoon, according to the website PowerOutage.us, which tracks utility reports. Most of those outages were caused by powerful winds as the storm moved through overnight, utility officials said.
Across Louisiana, about 89,000 customers remained without power Tuesday afternoon, mostly in areas ravaged by Hurricane Ida.
Nicholas brought rain to the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey, which 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.
McNoldy, the hurricane researcher, said Nicholas was bringing far less rain than Harvey did.
“It’s not crazy amounts of rain. It isn’t anything like Hurricane Harvey kind of thing with feet of rain,” McNoldy said. Harvey not only stalled for three days over the same area, but it also moved a bit back into the Gulf of Mexico, allowing it to recharge with more water. Nicholas won’t do that, McNoldy said.
Nicholas could dump up to 20 inches of rain in parts of southern Louisiana. Forecasters said southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle could see heavy rainfall as well.