Tag Archives: The Weather Channel

Houston’s “Historic Flood” Plan… Or Lack Thereof

For many residents of Greater Houston, especially those still caught in the throes of disaster, the April 18th are likely still a very sensitive subject.  Across wide swaths of the region, residents are enduring the terrible headaches of ripping up flooring, towing cars, trashing molded furniture, rewiring electrical systems and waiting for insurance companies to call. And those are the most fortunate. For the poorest citizens, the historic floods from this week have left many homeless, hungry and devastated.

But at some point, we must begin to question how and why such devastation can befall the region.  If “historic flooding” can occur twice in less than a year, just how historic is it?  According to Jon Erdman of The Weather Channel, the answer to these questions are more obvious than many Houstonians would like to admit…


If you’re unlucky, you may have dealt with major flooding perhaps once or twice in your life. But Houstonians, even transplants who have only spent a few years in southeast Texas, likely have experienced flooding multiple times —sometimes in the same year.

One could make a strong argument that Houston is the nation’s flash flood capital.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, there were 96 days with at least one report of flooding or flash flooding in Harris County from 1996 through 2015. This equates to an average of 4-5 days of flooding each year over that time period.

Of course, not all of these flood events are as severe as April 2016, Memorial Day 2015, or Allison in 2001. The fact that flooding happens with such regularity most years in an area just slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island is quite impressive.

Including the April 2016 flood, there have been at least 26 events that flooded homes in the Houston metro area since the mid 1970s, according to Houston-based Weather Research Center (WRC) and National Weather Service records. WRC documented area floods, some related to tropical cyclones, back to 1837, the year after the city was founded.

These events have happened every time of the year, even in late fall and winter.

Apart from the prodigious rainfall from tropical cyclones and their remnants, thunderstorms and thunderstorm clusters tend to slow and stall near the Gulf Coast, especially from late spring through early fall.

In case anyone was in doubt, the data is clear.  Floods will happen across Houston region and Southeast Texas.  These “historic events” are not a matter of if, but when.

Realizing this as fact also means accepting that we cannot stop floods, but we must be prepared for them.  So there’s the problem.  But what, if anything can Houston actually do about it?  Here are a few suggestions…

Close roads, save lives.  As much of a tragedy as flooded homes and businesses create, they are not the predominant cause of death in these flood events.  The far more dangerous situations occur when drivers get caught on flooded roads.  But as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett knows, these deaths are preventable.  Officials know which roads are most likely to flood in a significant rain event, because they are virtually the same ones that have flooded every time.  Closing these roads would save lives.  It’s also important to increase awareness for residents of just how Houston’s flood prevention system works.  The central to this system in large flood event?? ROADS.  Once the bayous and creeks fill up, the next place which water collects in Houston are the roads themselves.  Ever wondered why sections of all major Houston freeways are trenches?  It’s because they are meant to fill with water in a flood event.

Stop building “out” and start building smart.  Some of these changes are already occurring in parts of Houston as a result of reaching critical density, but protecting this region from flooding means a full recognition that we cannot continue to build new developments in areas designated as part of the primary flood plain. Of course, such radical change isn’t really possible without more cohesive regulation (yes I said it… ZONING).  But for those that are already in a flood plain, it’s time to seek some smart building strategies… flood gates, raising home and business levels, and massive flood protection work like Project Brays must become one of the region’s top priorities.  It would take a massive effort and lots of coordination between all levels of the public and private sector, but it can be done. Case in point? The Texas Medical Center.

Building on the example of the TMC’s innovative flood alert and prevention system, we know that mitigating flood damage in the area is possible. The only question that remains… Can we find the will to do work?



Council Member Green Calls Out Congress On Infrastructure, Project Brays

It’s a story that local public officials know all too well in the modern era… abdication of the Federal Government when it comes to infrastructure projects.  Whether it was Democrats moving to prioritize other needs over needed infrastructure spending, or Republicans trying desperately to refuse spending of any kind, one thing is clear… federal partners have been absent from the picture for a long time.

As the Houston Chronicle Editorial board shares, some local officials have had enough, and are even linking this abdication to this week’s historic flood events…

“Acts of God” are what we call those violent forces of nature outside humanity’s control.

The floods that struck Brays Bayou during Monday’s storm, however, feel a bit like an act of Congress.

Floods are nothing new for the neighborhoods near those muddy waters, but after Tropical Storm Allison the federal government united with the Harris County Flood Control District to improve water retention and flood prevention in the Brays Bayou watershed. The project began with optimistic expectations, working off a bipartisan local-federal framework established by former Houston-area U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay, a Republican, and Ken Bentsen, a Democrat. However, the promised federal funding has been hard to come by. Groups such as the Bayou Preservation Association have had to engage in letter-writing campaigns to convince the federal government simply to reimburse the flood control district as promised. As the funds have tightened, the construction along Brays Bayou has slowed to a trickle. Now a project that was supposed to be completed last year has been pushed back to 2020, according to Dr. Phil Bedient, director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center at Rice University. That’s six years of potential floodwaters – including Monday’s flood – that could have been significantly reduced.

How many flooded homes and businesses would have survived if the project had been completed on time? It is a question that’s hard to answer, but in a speech during Wednesday’s City Council meeting Councilman Larry Green placed the blame at the feet of our representatives in Washington.

“We know that if Project Brays is fully funded it will allow for the widening and will provide Brays Bayou the opportunity for more capacity,” said Green, who represents District K in southwest Houston. “I implore our federal representatives to stop playing partisan politics when it comes to infrastructure investment.”

We live in a time when elected representatives care more about playing to primary voters than delivering for their district’s needs, and when any spending – no matter how necessary – can be dismissed as pork. But try telling that to the residents of Meyerland, or owners of grocery stores that sat underwater, or congregants at flooded synagogues.

The Chronicle’s question is certainly a valid one, especially when you consider just how common flooding is for the Houston area.  At some point, we know that there is going to be another flood.

The Weather Channel took on this question, and did a comparison of the 2015 Memorial Day Flood to others in Houston’s history, including Tropical Storm Allison.  Basically, floods happen in Houston… it’s not a matter of if, but when and where.



In 2001, Brays Bayou and the Meyerland did not flood as severely as other areas of the city.  For this area of town, the 2015 flood bore a much greater impact with more localized damage to homes and businesses.  It’s a shame to think that preparation was already in place that could have prevented so much damage.

President Obama has made campaigning for infrastructure investment a central hallmark of his time in office.  Whether 2009, 2012 or 2015, he has tried repeatedly to send the message to Congress that our nation’s aging roads, bridges  and flood systems were not built to last forever.  Whether you believe in Climate Change, population growth, or just change, the nation’s infrastructure must have investment or it will fail.

Infrastructure investment at the Federal level has all but dried up.  But our tax revenues have not.  Every single year, we send trillions of dollars to Washington in sales, income and property taxes.  But with the way Congress has functioned lately, you’d be hard-pressed to know it.  Eventually, Americans must ask one other question– if our tax dollars aren’t being used to improve the country, then what are they being used for??  Council Member Green is right… it’s time for Congress to get its act together.