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'It's the New Abnormal': Extreme Downpours and Flash Flooding Wreak Havoc in Texas

Creeks and bayous are overflowing with more than 20 inches of rain falling over the weekend and researchers say the number of heavy rainfall events has increased 20 percent in the state compared to 65 years ago.

by Tess Owen
Apr 18 2016, 4:45pm

Photo by David J. Phillip/AP

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Major flash floods are sweeping the Houston area, as storms that began Sunday night continue to batter southeast Texas. Some areas have been inundated with up to 20 inches of rain, causing creeks and bayous to swell.

The Texas Storm Chasers, a weather monitor, warned of "life-threatening and extremely dangerous" conditions as a result of ongoing flooding around Houston.

"Understand that this is not your typical Houston flooding and we are going to have serious issues," the group said in a statement.

Since Sunday, emergency personnel have rescued over 150 people from their homes or while stranded in vehicles. The Red Cross is preparing for more storms to come, packing trucks with supplies that Texans might need in the coming days, including drinking water, medical supplies, beds, and blankets. One hundred and twenty-three thousand people have been left without power in the Houston area, according to one power provider.

Texas governor Greg Abbott has urged people to stay off the roads. "Turn around," Abbott tweeted. "Don't drown."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner ordered all non-essential city employees to stay at home. Turner also canceled his State of the City address that was slated for Monday. The Houston Independent School District has cancelled classes.

The weather system that has been dumping southeast Texas is affecting other parts of the country as far as the central and northern Rockies, which is being pummelled by a mixture of snow and rain. Authorities have issued flash flooding warnings in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Texas meteorologists are concerned that the storms could bring about hail storms and isolated tornadoes.

Heavy downpours are increasing in the south-central United States, including Texas, said Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. "It's the new abnormal," he said. As humans pump greater amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, it is able to absorb greater amounts of moisture, which means heavier amounts of precipitation when the skies open up.

In other words: Because of climate change, when it rains, it pours ... more often.

The independent scientific research and journalism organization Climate Central conducted last year an analysis of heavy precipitation trends across the US over the last 65 years. The group found that Texas had seen a 20 percent increase in extremely heavy downpours. The increase was particularly localized in certain cities. For example, McAllen, located along the US-Mexico border, saw a 700 percent increase in heavy downpours.

Local meteorologists are speculating that the heavy rain and flooding has already surpassed last year's record breaking "Memorial Day Flood" that wreaked havoc across Central Texas, killing 27 and leveling entire neighborhoods along the Blanco River.


Amid the chaos of the extreme event, dozens were feared missing and thousands of properties destroyed. Texas governor Greg Abbott declared 37 counties as disaster areas. In Texas, the final death toll was 27, and 11 more missing.

In March, Abbott requested federal disaster aid to assist countries which were particularly hard hit by flooding earlier this year.

Mayor Turner, who was a state representative at the time of the Memorial Day floods, was outraged when lawmakers declined to allocate funds towards strengthening the state's infrastructure.

"This week's rains and floods have made it clear," he said. "If we do not invest in our infrastructure in a very real way, all of us will suffer, whether we are in urban Texas or rural Texas. I think we made a serious mistake."

Related: 'Seek Higher Ground Immediately': Sifting Through the Wreckage of Texas' Deadly Floods

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen