Two weeks removed Hurricane Ida, another tropical cyclone is bearing down on the Gulf region. While Tropical Storm Nicholas won’t pose nearly the same threat as Ida when it comes to wind and storm surge, it’s going to be a monster rainmaker as it climbs the Texas coastline. Nicholas’ rain will also drench communities affected by Ida as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was blasted by two hurricanes last year.
Tropical Storm Nicholas formed over the weekend in the Gulf of Mexico and is currently packing winds of 95 km/h while sitting just south of the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Tropical storm warnings and watches have been issued along the entire 595-kilometre Texas coast as well as a stretch of Mexico, as Nicholas is expected to mirror the coastline before ploughing inland. But wind is not the threat here — it’s rain. There are a few factors that will determine just how much rain will pile up, but the prospect for a major flood event is shaping up for the region.
Nicholas Will Make It Rain
Nicholas is, frankly, a pretty butt ugly storm with no clearly defined eye. It’s also been having problems keeping it together as its outer bands swirl over land. In short, the storm isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. But what it lacks in looks it makes up for in torrential, dangerous downpours.
The track of Nicholas and the fact that it’s expected to move very slowly will create major flood problems. The storm is moving at a relative crawl of around 8 km/h, which will allow bands of rain to linger over the coast. It’s reminiscent of other recent storms, notably 2018’s Hurricane Harvey that just meandered over the northeast Texas coast for days on end. We’re not talking Harvey 2.0 here, but we are talking serious, life-threatening rainfall.
An area from just north of Corpus Christi, Texas, to the Louisiana-Mississippi border is expected to see at least 15 to 25 centimetres of rain, with some locations seeing upwards of 50 centimetres through Thursday. That includes the major metro areas of Houston and Galveston in Texas, both all-too-well acquainted with heavy downpours, which will see the worst of it on Monday night into Tuesday. Lake Charles and Lafayette in Louisiana are also in the rain zone as Nicholas crawls north and then takes a jog east on Wednesday. A few areas hit hard by Ida just two weeks ago could see up to 6 inches of rain, which could trigger new flooding.
The National Weather Service has issued flash flood watches and warnings throughout the area. The big question is where, exactly, Nicholas’ rain bullseye will hit.
Right now, the NWS is forecasting areas immediately along the coast to the south and north of Galveston with the highest rainfall totals. Space City Weather, a local Houston weather blog, said the Houston region should expect “significant flash flooding” that would be on par with 2019’s Tropical Storm Imelda for the city (that storm was much worse for points to the northeast).
Storm Surge and Winds Will Also Wreak Havoc
The other tropical cyclone dangers also apply to Nicholas. The storm could bring up to 1.5 metres of storm surge at its peak along the central Texas coast. Galveston could see up to 1.2 metres of surge as well.
There’s an outside chance Nicholas could also reach Category 1 hurricane status as it nears the coast. While nowhere near the ferocity of Ida’s winds when it reached shore, any hurricane-force winds are nothing to mess around with. The National Hurricane Centre has issued hurricane watches for a portion of the coast as a precaution.
In a Summer of Floods, the Potential for More Floods
Across the U.S., floods have inundated communities throughout the summer. From Colorado to Michigan, to Louisiana to New York to Tennessee, destructive and deadly floods have taken a toll on the country. Nicholas’ rain will add to the damage that comes with too much water. Flooding is a hallmark of the climate crisis, whether from tropical cyclones or no-name storms. A hotter atmosphere can hold more water, unleashing deluges that our infrastructure isn’t designed to handle.
Nicholas Will Hit Weather-Weary Communities
The Gulf Coast has been through hell over the past year. Lake Charles was hit hard by Hurricane Laura and Delta. The former is one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall in the state, and it unleashed a wave of pollution. That city was struck by the deep freeze that hit the South in February, which led to widespread power outages there even as people were still living under tarped roofs. Of course, Texas is the epicentre of one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history largely due to natural gas failing to meet demand in the cold snap. Petrochemicals plants belched pollution and hundreds lost their lives. Nicholas will add to the woes of the region.