Very wet Tropical Storm Nicholas heads for Texas Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Nicholas was moving up the Gulf Coast on Monday, threatening to bring heavy rain and floods to coastal areas of Texas, Mexico and storm-battered Louisiana.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Nicholas was strengthening, churning up top winds of 60 mph in a 1 a.m. CDT update. It was traveling north-northwest at 15 mph on a track forecast to pass near the South Texas coast later Monday, then move onshore along the coast of south or central Texas by Monday evening.

But CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV chief meteorologist David Paul said Sunday night that his models have the storm moving somewhat more slowly. “We’re now looking at a possible landfall around Matagorda Bay (southwest of the city) early Tuesday morning as a 65 mile-per-hour storm. That puts us on the wet side of the system. And by Tuesday night, a tropical storm could be sitting over the center of downtown Houston,” Paul said.

In Galveston County, businesses blocked storefronts with sandbags ahead of potential flooding. Judge Mark Henry told KHOU the county is expecting between 15 and 20 inches of rain in some areas.

He added there’s low confidence in the exact track of the storm and its impact.

“They’re not really sure where exactly where the rain is going to fall so we have to be prepared for all the 20 inches to fall right here in Galveston County,” Henry said.

tropical-storm-nicholas-04a-091321.jpg
Tropical Storm Nicholas churns in the northwest Gulf of Mexico early on September 13, 2021. NOAA

A hurricane watch was issued from Port Aransas to Freeport, Texas. Much of the state’s coastline was under a tropical storm warning as the system was expected to bring heavy rain that could cause flash floods and urban flooding.

Rainfall totals of up to 10 inches in Texas and southwest Louisiana were expected, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across portions of coastal Texas through midweek.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state has placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the Texas Gulf Coast.

“This is a storm that could leave heavy rain, as well as wind and probably flooding, in various different regions along the Gulf Coast. We urge you to listen to local weather alerts, heed local warnings,” Abbot said in a video message.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding.

“The most severe threat to Louisiana is in the southwest portion of the state, where recovery from Hurricane Laura and the May flooding is ongoing. In this area, heavy rain and flash flooding are possible. However, it is also likely that all of south Louisiana will see heavy rain this week, including areas recently affected by Hurricane Ida,” Edwards said.

The storm was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago. Although forecasters didn’t expect Louisiana to suffer from strong winds again, meteorologist Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connections predicted rainfall could still plague places where the hurricane toppled homes, paralyzed electrical and water infrastructure and left at least 26 people dead.

“There could be several inches of rain across southeast Louisiana, where Ida struck,” Henson said in an email.

Across Louisiana, just over 100,000 customers remained without power early Monday, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only 4 other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.