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Tropical cyclone possible in Gulf later this week

Residents should keep their eyes on the Gulf of Mexico this week as an unusual weather system moves south and could bring heavy rainfall this weekend, although forecasters say they’re anything but certain about where the system might end up.

“The takeaway right now is to make sure you are prepared ahead of time in case something does form,” said Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in League City.

Several Galveston County cities are already monitoring the possible disturbance, but no one expects to have much concrete information about its course until Wednesday or Thursday, which could give residents little time to make plans if it does veer toward the region.

“It’s too early to do much,” said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for League City. “The European and American forecasts say two totally different things and it probably won’t be until Wednesday that we have a better idea.”

The city of Galveston is taking similar precautions, monitoring the weather for development, said Marissa Barnett, spokeswoman for the city.

“We will be doing pre-storm debris management starting later this week where we clean up anything that can blow or float that may impede drainage,” Barnett said. “We will also be working to clean any critical drainage infrastructure prior to the storms arrival. We still do not know what to expect from the storm but are anticipating rain and higher than usual tides.”

Essentially, a storm system is moving south through the Mississippi River Valley and could form into a tropical disturbance in the northern Gulf of Mexico sometime in the next few days, Fowler said.

That in and of itself is unusual, as most weather systems that become tropical disturbances form over the Caribbean or head toward the Gulf from Africa, Fowler said. But, while unusual, it isn’t unprecedented.

Because the system hasn’t even reached the Gulf, let alone formed, forecasters don’t have much confidence in predicting what might happen if it does form, Fowler said.

“Forecasts swing widely, from it impacting Corpus Christi all the way up through the Florida coastline,” Fowler said.

The National Hurricane Center gives the system a 30 percent chance of forming into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours and an 80 percent chance over five days, forecasters said.

“There’s not a lot of guidance as to what time rain might happen,” Fowler said. “It’s a slow-moving storm and, again, it’s way too far out to make real forecasts about what type of rain might get here.”

Fast-developing storms that leave people with little time to make plans aren’t unusual for hurricane season, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the regents professor of atmospheric sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Geosciences.

“That’s a challenge for places like Galveston,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Oftentimes, places will have plans for what to do five, four and three days before a hurricane. But sometimes, you might not know until just two or three days ahead of time when a storm is even going to form in the first place.”

Hurricane Audrey in June of 1957, for instance, was a tropical disturbance in the southern Gulf that three days later made landfall in western Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, Nielsen-Gammon said.

Part of the problem with predicting what might happen with this current system is uncertainty about what might happen once it reaches the Gulf, Fowler said.

“If it forms closer to the coastline and does not get into the deeper waters, that limits the strengthening of it,” Fowler said. “But if it goes farther south into the Gulf, it could get stronger. However, that’s all up in the air at the moment.”

If the disturbance does form into a tropical cyclone, it would be named Barry.

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Old Galveston pump station to become new city community center


By the end of the year, Galveston will have a new use for a historic municipal building.

The city is a little less than a year into rehabilitating and repurposing the historic 30th Street Water and Electric Light Station into a community center.

The station, at 30th and Ball streets, hasn’t been used for electric services for a century and hasn’t been a water pump station since 2010, when the city opened its new pump facility at 31st and Church streets, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The $2.9 million rehabilitation of the 6,800-square-foot facility should be completed by late October or early November, Barnett said.

Work on the project began last fall, she said.

The project is funded through federal disaster relief money, she said.

“The idea behind this project was to restore a beautiful historic structure and provide something useful and beneficial,” Barnett said.

The 1888 structure has weathered several storms, but was substantially rebuilt after The 1900 Storm, said Calvin Neill, superintendent with contractor Ardent Construction.

The building did take in some water during Hurricane Ike in 2008, he said.

“We’re doing as much as we can just to reuse,” Neill said. “The goal of this project is to rehabilitate as much as we can.”

All the exterior brick is being rehabilitated, Neill said. An exterior cornice that’s been damaged will be rebuilt using fiberglass, Neill said.

“That’s all getting rebuilt per the old photographs,” Neill said.

While one of the two old water tanks will be torn down to clear the way for parking, one will be preserved, Neill said.

That demolition is costing about $670,000, paid for through disaster relief money, according to city records.

Inside, crews are constructing some rooms to accommodate meeting space and restrooms and are restoring plaster walls and tiling the floors with the original gold and cream colors, Neill said.

Crews need to repair some of the roof, but the building is structurally sound, he said.

The building’s limestone base dates back to 1888, he said.

“We’ve dug down about 10 feet in some areas in this wall and it goes down past 10 feet,” Neill said. “It’s pretty cool learning about it.”

The meeting and community center space will add to other options on the island, such as those at Wright Cuney Recreation Center, 718 41st St., Barnett said.

“Wright Cuney is more geared toward physical activities,” Barnett said. “There is some community space in Wright Cuney for meetings or educational events, but the 30th Street facility will provide additional community event space.”

The community center is meant to complement the island’s newest mixed income development, The Cedars at Carver Park, 2914 Ball St., which opened in 2015, Barnett said.

Lawmakers call their 2019 session a big success


Forty-two days after the end of the 2019 Texas Legislative session ended, state Sen. Larry Taylor used two words to describe this year’s happenings in Austin.

Stressful and successful.

“Think of it like the championship in its closing seconds in the game in the fourth quarter with all the stress that’s going on, but then you won,” Taylor said. “That’s how I felt this session.”

But for all that grueling work, Taylor said lawmakers claimed two victories out of the latest biennial session: reforms to the state’s education funding and tax laws.

Taylor and the two other men who represent most of Galveston County in the legislature — state Reps. Greg Bonnen and Mayes Middleton — spoke at a luncheon held by the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce on Monday at the Doyle Convention Center in Texas City.

Education reform has been Taylor’s major focus for years. He’s the chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, and was one of the architects of the final version of House Bill 3, the education funding bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month.

The bill made major changes in the way Texas public schools are funded, including lowering the amount that so-called property rich districts, including the school districts in Galveston and Texas City, have to pay out to other school districts.

“We passed landmark legislation, transformative legislation, more state funding is dedicated to where it’s needed the most,” Taylor said. He specifically touted increases for funding for programs to improve students’ reading by third grade.

Bonnen touted the Legislature’s balanced budget and tax reforms, and urged the crowd to vote for an income-tax banning constitutional amendment that will be on ballots statewide in November.

“I think that will ensure that for the foreseeable future, hopefully many, many years to come, there’s no worries about whether Texas is going to have a state income tax,” Bonnen said.

Middleton, who served his first term as a state representative this year, closed the luncheon by also noting some of the more socially conservative laws the legislature passed this session. Lawmakers passed, among other things, a bill prohibiting cities from taking action against businesses because of religious beliefs, and another that requires Texas universities to allow freedom of expression on their campuses.

Both bills were conservative causes this session. The former stemmed from an incident in which the city of San Antonio blocked a Chick-fil-A restaurant from operating in its municipal airport. The latter was in response to incidents such as when Texas A&M University in 2017 canceled an event planned by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

“Local government cannot discriminate against a business for its sincerely held religious beliefs, like we saw San Antonio do,” Middleton said. “Public universities were allowed to discriminate against certain kinds of free speech, and that’s not allowed anymore. What we’re saying is all speech should be respected at our public universities.”

“This session was a good session for faith and family,” he said.

Monday will probably not be the last time the three men tout their successes of the 2019 legislative session. Presuming they choose to run again, all three men would be up for re-election in the May 2020 primaries and the November 2020 general election.

Coming Thursday

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Before moon landing, astronauts learned geology in Arizona


Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin knew they would be the first to walk on the moon, they took crash courses in geology at the Grand Canyon and a nearby impact crater that is the most well-preserved on Earth.

Northern Arizona has had deep ties to the Apollo missions: Every moon-walking astronaut trained here, and a crater on the moon was even named in honor of the city of Flagstaff.

“It’s a really interesting and unique part of our history, and it’s really cool to think that this relatively small town in northern Arizona played such a big role in the Apollo missions,” said Benjamin Carver, a public lands historian at Northern Arizona University.

Today, astronaut candidates still train in and around Flagstaff, which is among many cities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

They walk in the same volcanic cinder fields where the U.S. Geological Survey intentionally blasted hundreds of craters from the ground to replicate the lunar surface, testing rovers and geology tools.

Scientists used early photos of the moon taken from orbit and re-created the Sea of Tranquility with “remarkable accuracy” before Apollo 11 landed there in 1969, the Geological Survey said.

Astronauts studied moon mapping at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff where Pluto was discovered and peered at their eventual destination through telescopes at various northern Arizona sites.

The region’s role in moon missions is credited to former Geological Survey scientist Gene Shoemaker, who moved the agency’s astrogeology branch to Flagstaff in 1963. It wasn’t long before Shoemaker guided Armstrong and Aldrin on hikes at Meteor Crater as he pushed to ensure NASA would include geology in lunar exploration.

A story passed down by geologists at the crater says Aldrin ripped his spacesuit on jagged limestone rocks that are part of the aptly named “tear-pants formation,” forcing a redesign, head tour guide Jeff Beal said.

Armstrong and Aldrin also hiked the Grand Canyon. A historical photo shows Armstrong carrying a rock hammer, a hand lens and a backpack for rock samples.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was the only Apollo astronaut who didn’t train at the national park. The geologist left Flagstaff to become an astronaut, and while his comrades were learning geology, he was learning to be a pilot.

In another historical photo, Apollo astronauts Jim Irwin and David Scott ride around in Grover, a prototype of the lunar rover made in Flagstaff from spare parts and now on display at the Astrogeology Science Center.

The eventual lunar rover used in three Apollo missions famously got a broken fender on a 1972 mission to the moon. Astronauts cobbled together a quick fix that included a map produced by geologists in Flagstaff.

In yet another historical photo, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean stand in the volcanic cinder field bordered by ponderosa pine trees holding a tool carrier. Bean would later say: “I now love geology, thanks to these early experiences in Flagstaff,” local historian Kevin Schindler co-wrote in a book on space training in northern Arizona.

Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the Astrogeology Science Center, is working with the 2017 class of astronaut candidates who will be in Flagstaff later this year for field training.

“It will be pretty inspiring for them. It’s inspiring for us being involved in this, but knowing you’re walking in the boot steps of these previous astronauts here in Flagstaff and, hopefully, some day on another body,” she said.

Flagstaff is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with tours, exhibits, talks and moon-themed food and art.

Charlie Duke, the youngest astronaut on the moon, is returning to Flagstaff in September as the keynote speaker at an annual science festival. He and Jason Young, who were on Apollo 17, named a moon crater “Flag Crater.”

Retired Flagstaff geologist Gerald Schaber plans to celebrate the lunar legacy wearing the same turquoise bolo tie that distinguished Shoemaker’s Arizona crew from others who worked on moon missions. Schaber was at Mission Control in Houston in 1969, monitoring black-and-white images while bent over a map trying to gauge the distance between Armstrong and Aldrin using cutouts of the men.

“I was just trying to do the best I could with the primitive tracking ability we had in those days,” he said from his home in Flagstaff where he has a signed photograph of a hill on the moon that Apollo 15 astronauts referred to “Schaber Hill.”

Of the three crater fields created in northern Arizona for astronaut training in the late 1960s, only one has a sign acknowledging its importance in the moon missions. Visitors can walk through gaps in a barbed-wire fence and feel their feet sink into the volcanic cinders, although not as deep as the astronauts’ feet on the moon.

The craters don’t come into view without being close up, some as darkened, shallow depressions and others as giant welts in the ground partially lost to the weather.

Arizona has approved a nomination to list several of the training sites on the National Register of Historic Places to better preserve them, but federal approval is still needed.