Flooding across vast regions of Texas, has created a crisis that has claimed human and animal life, caused thousands to evacuate flooded homes in urban and rural areas, stranded motorists and livestock, and caused serious flooding on multiple major rivers.
Forecasters and emergency rescue officials stopped short of calling the unprecedented floods “biblical,” but the National Weather Service (NWS) admits flooding on some rivers and streams has surpassed historical record levels, especially in eastern areas of the state where the Brazos, Trinity and Colorado rivers have turned thousands of acres of farmland into a sea of floodwater with barns, homes and other structures barely visible in some fields.
In Southeast Texas, where the Brazos River reached 54.7 feet above flood stage as of Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of families were evacuated in Richmond, Wharton and Rosenberg, and water rescues numbered in the hundreds.
In rural Simonton, just west of Houston, widespread flooding forced large herds of livestock to move to higher ground, and a group of rain-soaked horses to take shelter on the front porch of a home been evacuated by residents escaping rising water. Animal/livestock rescue officials in Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery and Brazoria counties say they have been working non-stop searching for and rescuing cattle and horses, and assisting in relocating rural residents trapped by rising waters.
This most recent flood crisis results from recent heavy and widespread rains across large areas of Texas. Flooding has been reported in the Texas Panhandle, the Southern Plains of Texas, across parts of North Texas (including the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex), in Central Texas (including the Texas Hill Country and cities including Austin and San Antonio), as far West as Midland and as far south as the Texas Coast.
Kingsville, home of the King Ranch, just south of Corpus Christi, received 5 to 8 inches of rain and baseball size hail on Tuesday. A tornado was also reported. Heavy rains spread up the coast as far as the Louisiana state line and across most of East Texas causing rivers to swell and flood out of their banks.
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NWS forecasters say the current seriousness of flood conditions across wide areas of the state are the result of accumulated heavy rains stretching back as far as early spring. Significant rain and flood events occurred in March, again in April, in May and now June, saturating soils and filling streams, rivers lakes and ponds across the state.
Forecasters say some parts of Texas have received between 150 and 200 percent of normal rainfall since the start of the year. In May, Corpus Christi measured nearly 20 inches of rain, of which more than a foot fell in a single day.
In Houston (Harris and surrounding counties), nearly 32 inches of rain have fallen in 42 days. Over the last 12 months, parts of Harris County have received a remarkable 90-plus inches of rain, a new record for any consecutive 12-month period of record. Water rescues and evacuations have become commonplace in parts of Houston where some residents have evacuated from their homes multiple times since the rains started falling in March.
The flooding on the Brazos River has been so severe it forced a complete evacuation of the Ramsey Prison Unit in Rosharon where thousands of inmates had to be relocated.
Evacuations were ordered in nearby Conroe, in parts of Huntsville and dozens of other communities where raging floodwaters threatened homes and businesses. Not far from Huntsville, other Walker County residents are experiencing flooding from an overflowing Trinity River. One subdivision in the county, Deep River Plantation subdivision, has flooded nine times since Memorial Day last year, an indication of how unusual and relentless rain has been in Southeast Texas over the last year.
As rain continues to fall, with even more in the forecast through the coming weekend, the number of water rescues in Fort Bend County has already exceeded 300 over the last week. State and local emergency officials are over-extended as volunteers from all across the state continue to flood into the area. American Red Cross units, one from as far away as Colorado, have arrived to various locations throughout the state as floodwaters continue to threaten motorists, homes and communities.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Wednesday in 31 flood-affected counties including Lubbock County in West Texas, Hidalgo County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, and Jasper County in East Texas.
DALLAS STREETS CLOSED
In Dallas and much of North Texas, heavy rains and a mudslide forced the closure of streets in Dallas Wednesday where water rescues took place across the Metroplex. Motorists in Garland were stuck overnight waiting for rescuers. In Granbury and Hood County south of Fort Worth, more than 100 calls for assistance came in after heavy downpours caused flooding late Tuesday. American Red Cross opened a shelter in Granbury on Wednesday where many residents remain as of this writing.
Flooding and high water forced road closures in Johnson and surrounding counties on Wednesday as rain continued to fall. Farther south in the Texas Hill Country, officials in Kerr County closed almost all low water crossings as the Guadalupe River and tributary streams overflowed. High winds and hail reports came in from several locations across the high country and as far south as Jim Wells and Kleberg Counties.
High water forced road closures and prompted water rescues in both San Antonio and Austin this week as strong storms continue to assail areas where recent rains had left soils saturated and flood drainage overtaxed.
Extreme weather also hit Deep South Texas where streets were closed and motorists were stranded in parts of McAllen and Hidalgo County. Heavy rain also caused flooding in the Texas Coastal Bend, including Kingsville and Sinton. Most of South, Central, Southeast and Coastal Texas was bracing for an additional 3 to 8 inches of rain Wednesday night through Friday morning. More thunderstorms expected over the weekend as a low pressure system stalls over South Central Texas bring the threat of more flooding in the days ahead.
AG DAMAGE ASSESSMENTS HAMPERED
So far, many farmers and ranchers across wide areas of the state have been unable to assess damages because they have not been able to reach fields and flooded pastures. Livestock rescues continue in areas where a break in weather and flooding allow, but farmers say they will remain uncertain of the condition of many of their crops until later this weekend or even into next week.
County agents have been reluctant to comment on conditions until time and weather allow better assessment.
While agricultural producers generally remain optimistic about substantial rains, which generally prove beneficial in time, a few contacted this week say they are more than ready for a break in the weather and will be happy to see clearing skies and warm days to help dry fields in the days ahead. Forecasters, however, say that may not be until sometime next week.