Most of us on the upper Texas coast have been through tropical storms. And from those storms, we’ve gleaned lessons we’d do well to heed now.
One of the main things we’ve learned is no two storms are alike. And despite major meteorological advances, most of them bring surprises. The only thing we can guarantee about storms is their unpredictability.
As we’ve said before in these pages, the storms that keep us up at night tend to form near the Cape Verde islands, just off the west coast of Africa. Both The Great Storm and Hurricane Ike, which occurred just about this time in 2008, were Cape Verde hurricanes. In modern times, the upside of storms forming way out in the Atlantic is that you get plenty of time to get ready for them.
Nicholas is a reminder that serious tropical weather can form much closer to home and be here in a matter of hours.
Tropical Storm Allison, for example, formed June 4, 2001, just offshore of Galveston and by June 5 was in the process of dumping almost 40 inches of rain on Houston.
Galveston saw tides about 8 feet over normal. A dozen people in Texas died in ways related to the storm, which caused about $7 billion in property damage.
A more sobering example is Hurricane Alicia, which formed Aug. 15, 1983, in the Gulf of Mexico about 350 miles south of Louisiana. Alicia made landfall on Aug. 18, by which time evacuation routes already were impassable.
And none of us can forget Hurricane Harvey, which in August 2017 dropped from a Category 4 hurricane to a mere tropical storm, which stalled and dumped more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Galveston County and surrounding areas in a matter of hours, putting it into a class of its own. No one predicted that kind of rainfall from Harvey.
Tropical Storm Nicholas came up on us fast, and forecasters early Monday expected it to bring heavy rains up to 15 inches over the next few days, Daily News weather tracker Stan Blazyk reported.
Galveston County will be on the “dirty,” or east side, of the storm with excessive rains, tropical force wind gusts, potential flooding and the risk of isolated tornadoes over the coming two to three days, Blazyk reports.
Although on Monday there still was uncertainty about Tropical Storm Nicholas, we’d be wise to prepare for heavy rains and flooding and to heed any governmental warnings. But we also should remember not just the damage, but dangers flooding brings.
There are many reasons it’s a bad idea to drive on flooded streets and roads. Water can hide dips, debris and areas washed away completely, experts warn.
“It’s not the road you know no matter how many times you’ve driven it,” according to idrivelysafely.com, a defensive driving firm, which advises staying out of moving water, period.
“Many people have been put in dire situations after thinking they could drive through water that was clearly moving,” according to idrivelysafely.com.
“Does your SUV make you big enough to cross streams? No. Less than 1 foot of water will float your vehicle; 2 feet can sweep most vehicles away, even a heavy, lifted pickup truck.”
Other driving tips from idrivelsafely.com include:
• Forget about lanes and drive down the center. The water tends to be most shallow at the center of the road.
• Take turns with other cars. Creating a single lane behind other drivers is safer than passing by and splashing water onto passing vehicles. The vehicle in front of you can help move water out of the way so you have a little better traction. Plus, stress already is running high when the roads are wet; there’s no need to add extra frustration to the mix by blasting past people.
• Only cross when the water is extremely shallow. Only a little over a one-half inch of water at any speed can cause you to lose control — badly. Never try and cross water that rises above the center of your wheels. That includes puddles.
• Drive slowly. The last thing you want to do is drive fast over watery roads. If you do have to cross water on the road enter at 1 to 2 mph then drive at 3 to 4 mph to avoid engine flooding.
• Drive in low gear to protect the car. If you’re driving an automatic vehicle, keep the speed low enough to stay in first or second gear. Keep your foot on the gas and use the brake to regulate speed.
• Dry your brakes. Once you get through the water, you don’t want to spin out. You can dry your brakes after moving through water by braking lightly while driving very slowly.
We’ll add another reason to drive slowly through water — preventing wakes.
In past storms and floods, inconsiderate or oblivious drivers sped through flooded downtown streets in Galveston and neighborhoods across the county causing wakes and pushing water into houses and buildings.
If you must drive along flooded roads, go slowly and spare your neighbors some grief.
• Laura Elder