SURFSIDE BEACH, Texas — Tropical Storm Nicholas slowed to a crawl near Houston on Tuesday after blowing ashore as a hurricane, knocking out power to a half-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. It was about 30 miles southeast of Houston, with maximum winds of 40 mph as of 1 p.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Galveston, Texas, saw nearly 14 inches of rain from Nicholas, the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, while Houston reported more than 6 inches of rain. 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 his wife Monica Klaus, 62, rode out the storm in their two-bedroom home, which sits about 6 to 8 feet above the ground on stilts.
“It was bad. I won’t ever do it again,” Kirk Klaus said.
He said it rained all day on Monday and, as the night progressed, the rainfall and winds got worse.
Sometime 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. 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, 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 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 last year by Hurricane Laura. 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 Tuesday. So while the storm itself may weaken “that won’t stop the rain from happening. Whether it’s a tropical storm, tropical depression or post-tropical blob, it’ll still rain a lot and that’s not really good for that area.”
The storm was moving east-northeast at 7 mph, and the center of Nicholas was expected to move slowly over southeastern Texas on Tuesday and over southwestern Louisiana on Wednesday.
More than a half-million homes and businesses had lost power in Texas, but that number dropped to about 375,000 by midday Tuesday, according to the website poweroutage.us that tracks utility reports. Most of those outages were caused by powerful winds as the storm moved through overnight, utility officials said. Across Louisiana, about 100,000 customers remained without power Tuesday midday.
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 is 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, it moved a bit back into the Gulf of Mexico, allowing it to recharge with more water. Nicholas won’t do that, McNoldy said.
Nicholas, expected to weaken into a tropical depression by Tuesday night, 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.
On Tuesday, heavy rains from Nicholas pelted blue tarps that covered roofs damaged by Ida all over southern Louisiana.
Ida destroyed one building and left holes in the roof of the main plant at Motivatit Seafoods, a family-run oyster wholesaler in Houma, Louisiana. With rain from Nicholas pouring in on high-pressure processing equipment, owner Steven Voisin said he didn’t know whether the machines could be saved after the latest round of tropical weather.
“And many people from here to New Orleans have this or more damage,” he said. “They’re not going to recover quickly or easily.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state.
On Monday, Misty Tran dreaded the thought of Nicholas reaching as far east as her home south of New Orleans in Empire, Louisiana. Ida damaged the roof of Tran’s mobile home. A tarp covers the roof now, Tran said, but it wouldn’t be a match for even a weak storm.
“A tarp can only do so much,” said Tran, helping clean up at a marina where she works.
CASTAIC, Calif. — Firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that jumped across a Southern California freeway and spread across dry hillsides while a new blaze forced residents of a Northern California community to evacuate.
The fire broke out Saturday afternoon near Castaic in northern Los Angeles County. Pushed by 10-15mph winds, the blaze chewed through tinder-dry brush and jumped across the busy freeway, spread across more than a half of a square mile.
The California Highway Patrol closed a stretch of the interstate for several hours as air tankers dropped bright-orange retardant on the flames. A large flareup sent heavy smoke drifting toward freeway lanes Sunday afternoon, the CHP reported.
Two firefighters were taken to the hospital to treat burn injuries, said Andrew Mitchell, a spokesman for the Angeles National Forest.
Officials said the fire was about 63% contained Sunday, adding that firefighters made progress overnight with the help of water-dropping aircraft and an aggressive ground attack, Mitchell said.
He said crews would take advantage of the beginning of a cooling trend Sunday to build containment lines.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Meanwhile, a fire that erupted Sunday afternoon prompted Mendocino County authorities to evacuate parts of Calpella, a community on the Russian River about 6 miles north of Ukiah. Video footage posted on Twitter shows the fire pushing in the direction of Lake Mendocino.
Further north, residents of a mountain town devastated by the huge Caldor Fire south of Lake Tahoe will be allowed back Sunday to inspect the damage. Most of Grizzly Flat’s homes, as well as the school, post office, church and fire station were destroyed in the first days of the month-old fire. Evacuation orders were also lifted for homes along U.S. Highway 50 as containment of the 342-square-mile wildfire increased to 65%.
President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration late Sunday for El Dorado County in an effort to provide federal funding to state, tribal and eligible local governments, plus certain private nonprofit organizations, who have been affected by damage from the Caldor Fire.
Firefighters were diverted from battling the blaze to fight multiple overnight lightning fires when thunderstorms swept across the state Thursday night into Friday.
The thunderstorms dropped light rain to slightly dampen the drought-stricken north, fire officials said.
Up to a half-inch of rain fell on portions of the Dixie Fire, which began in mid-July and has burned through huge swaths of the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. However, fire officials said the rain is drying fast and vegetation is becoming more flammable.
The second-largest fire in California history has burned 1,500 square miles of land and more than 1,300 homes and other buildings. It was 65% contained.