Texas bracing for Tropical Storm Nicholas and up to 20 inches of rain in Gulf Coast

Officials in Texas on Monday were bracing for Tropical Storm Nicholas, which could bring up to 18 inches of rain and cause life-threatening flash flooding.

In Houston, where a large number of flights had already been canceled, officials urged everyone to be off the streets by nightfall.

Pop star Harry Styles postponed Monday night’s planned concert at Houston’s Toyota Center, which Mayor Sylvester Turner said underscored the gravity of the storm.

“Safety must take priority, so please go home and be safe,” Styles tweeted.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph by 7 p.m., and it could strengthen to a hurricane before landfall Monday night, the National Hurricane Center said.

The center of Nicholas was about 35 miles south-southwest of Matagorda, Texas, around 7 p.m. and moving north-northeast at around 12 mph, the hurricane center said.

The storm was soaking parts of Texas as it approached. Port O’Connor, on the coast north of Corpus Christi, recorded a 49-mph wind gust, forecasters said.

Landfall was expected Monday night or early Tuesday between Corpus Christi and Galveston as a high-end tropical storm or a low-end Category 1 hurricane.

Hurricane watches were in place from Port Aransas to San Luis Pass near Galveston. Tropical storm warnings covered a stretch of coast from Baffin Bay to the Louisiana border. Storm surge warnings also covered large parts of the coast, and a storm surge watch extended to Rutherford Beach in Louisiana.

Regardless of strength at landfall, the expected impacts won’t change — the greatest of all being significant flash flooding.

Rainfall rates could be 3 to 4 inches per hour under the heaviest rain bands. Infrastructure has a tough time dealing with such intense rainfall rates, likely leading to significant flash flooding especially in urban areas.

To make matters worse, the heaviest rainfall for Houston and surrounding areas looks to happen after nightfall, compounding the danger. Meteorologists are urging not to drive over water-covered roadways, as the majority of flood-related deaths happen in vehicles.

Ahead of landfall, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency declaration for 17 counties in the storm’s path.

“Texans throughout the Gulf Coast should prepare now for the impact of Tropical Storm Nicholas, which is expected to bring severe rain and flooding to these communities,” Abbott said in a press release.

Turner, the Houston mayor, said rain posed the biggest threat to the city and requested that motorists be off the roadways by nightfall.

Turner advised anyone driving to turn around instead of driving through high water or past a street barricade. “They’re there for your protection,” he said.

United and Southwest Airlines canceled all flights out of Corpus Christi International Airport for 24 hours due to “deteriorating weather conditions,” a city spokesperson said in a press release.

The flood threat then shifts into Louisiana on Tuesday and Wednesday, including for areas still cleaning up from Hurricane Ida.

Storm total rainfall through midweek could be extreme in some cases. For the middle and upper Texas coast, 6 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches possible, the hurricane center said. Across the rest of coastal Texas into southwest Louisiana, totals could be 4 to 8 inches with locally higher amounts.

Life-threatening storm surge will also be possible for parts of the immediate Texas coast, with a maximum of 3-5 feet possible.

When Nicholas was named Sunday, it became the 14th named storm of the 2021 season, matching the climatological average number of named storms per season.

Only four other years in the satellite era (back to 1966) have had 14 storms by Sept. 12 and those were 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.

Nicholas will be the eighth storm to make landfall on the United States so far this year.

Tim Fitzsimons contributed.

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