Sunday, June 1, 2008

Opening day

Hurricane season officially opens today, although Tropical Storm Arthur decided to make his appearance yesterday, one day early.

I've known for a couple of days what I was going to write about today. It's just been a matter of organizing it and getting my facts straight. (Don't want Chuck coming back at me.) I'm going to be taking some literary license here, and then I'll reference the actual facts. You can look them up for yourselves, if you wish, on Google. There's a TON of information there!

Here's what I had cemented in my memory banks about Tropical Storm Allison, which was a VERY scary storm -- not in terms of high winds and spawned tornadoes (there was only one, thank goodness!), but for the fact that she just would NOT go away!!

It was a Sunday, late afternoon. I was sitting amongst many other taxicabs at Intercontinental Airport (IAH). When I got to the loading zone, a gentleman was waiting there with his luggage. He wanted to go to Galveston (ni$e trip!). Off we went.

It was a gorgeous day, bright sun, high puffy clouds, real pretty. We chatted along the way, about a one and a half hour trip. He worked for an insurance company, and he'd come here from the State of Washington to take photographs of damage to a dock due to an accident a while back. Our trip together was quite pleasant, but I did not give him my card because cab drivers licensed in Houston are not allowed to pick up in Galveston.

After dropping him off at his hotel, I wished him a very pleasant few days and hoped that he would get all of the information his company needed. I remember saying something like, "Looks like the weather is going to cooperate." Ye Gods!!

[There'd been a report or two on the radio about this tropical wave that looked like it was developing in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Galveston, but most people who heard it (certainly I did!) just shrugged it off as inconsequential. It was too close to shore to pose any danger, we thought. Normally the strongest tropical storms, those that developed into full-blown hurricanes, originated in the Atlantic, skipped across the Caribbean islands, and then had the full width and breadth of the Gulf of Mexico to feed upon the warm/hot Gulf waters and strengthen to sometimes frightening dimensions.]

My mind chose to remember Allison as coming ashore Monday, flooding parts of Galveston, a lot of Pearland (mainly affecting SE Houston, including Hobby Airport), and continuing on north past IAH. Tuesday the sun was shining, but Allison was still hovering a few miles north of IAH, not going any further inland, and just belching rain. On Wednesday, Allison decided to do a little sidestep to the west (spawning the one tornado in the Woodlands) and then dip WAY south to the SugarLand area, flooding parts of SL and neighboring Missouri City.

Then, the unthinkable happened. She decided to retreat north again, taking up what now looked like permanent residence north of IAH and spewing rain the whole time. Thursday, the sun was shining. On Friday, late afternoon, my daughter called me. She asked, "Mom, where are you?" I responded that I was sitting in front of the Exxon Building (downtown), as per usual on Fridays, waiting for a trip. She said, "What's it look like there?" 'It', in this case, meant the weather.

Well, the weather was gorgeous, except I didn't like the looks of the clouds coming in from the north, and I told her so. "In fact," I added, "I'm thinking of going home." And, I did. Almost before I hung up the phone, however, it was hailing on me!

The facts are that Allison did not come ashore Monday, she came ashore Tuesday. So, the sun was probably not shining Tuesday. The facts are that I was sitting in front of the Exxon Building Friday afternoon and that I did, indeed, go home almost immediately. (A really fortuitous choice, in retrospect.)

It was that Friday night that Allison decided to unleash her worst. There were reports of 2" of rain per hour for ten hours straight from the near northeast side of Houston, which NObody believed until they saw the actual proof by way of photographs taken from helicopters the very next day.

She did the unimaginable. She went south, sending torrents of rain which resulted in massive flooding and destruction downtown and in the Medical Center, devastating poor Pearland yet once again and flooding Pasadena. She 'blessed' Galveston with even more rain, and then went back out into the Gulf of Mexico, where she sat. How could this possibly be?!?

You want to talk about AFRAID? We ALL were! Then, instead of coming back up for the 4th time through the Houston area, she decided to go east. We all kept a VERY wary eye on her until she disappeared out into the Atlantic Ocean some days later.

It was from that Friday night that the most bizarre stories came to light. They're ALL true, which makes them even more scary. I'll just share two with you.

1. The emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital (downtown) was below ground level. As the people working at that facility listened to the incoming reports of water levels and projected anticipated rainfall amounts, they began evacuating (first) all of the patients waiting for care and (second) any instruments/equipment that they could hand-carry up the stairs (elevators could not be relied upon in these conditions). A doctor, who was on duty in the emergency room that night, personally related to me that, as they were hand-carrying a particularly heavy piece of equipment up the stairs, they heard behind them the unmistakable sounds of the walls collapsing from the weight of the water. They didn't try and go back for another trip, he told me.

2. Perhaps one of the more horRENdous stories of that night was that of a woman who was working late in one of the high-rise office buildings downtown. It seems that she got a call while at work, the caller advising her that she should go downstairs to the parking garage to move her car to a higher level, that the lower levels of the garage were flooding. She made the fatal mistake of trying to take the elevator down, and drowned in the elevator when the electricity went off.

For more 'actual' details of Allison, please see the Houston Chronicle's recapping of same, posted and updated just this morning. In particular, you might be interested in clicking on the "Harris County rain totals" in the MAPS section.

Are you there? On that map? OK. I live just to the right of 2.99/7.68 on the SW side. IAH is located just north of 14.96/23.58 on the N side, and Hobby Airport is located just under the white "1" on 12.72/18.19 on the SE side.

Tropical Storm Allison had the 'privilege' of having her name retired, the only tropical storm to have its name retired without ever reaching hurricane strength.


Tammy said...

About how much area does this map cover? Like how many miles from the north end to the south end and from the west end to the east end?

It's interesting how the amounts fluctuate so much. Over on the right side there are 2 areas that seem (to me anyway and I'm guessing) fairly close together. However one area only had 1.97 inches of rain and the other had 26.50 inches of rain.

Very interesting post. You stay safe. And wear a raincoat! lol

Goldenrod said...

A good question, Tammy. I just looked at that map once again and, strain my eyes as I might, I couldn't see any mile markings.

Houston encompasses most of Harris County, and might even 'spill over' into an adjoining county or two/three, but I'm not by any means 'for sure' on this.

I've been told that Houston has the largest land area of any city in the world. You can go between 50 and 80 miles (one direction), or so I've been told, and still be within the city limits of Houston.

Now, from my house to downtown, it's approximately 20 miles. From downtown to IAH, it's approx. 25 miles.

I stopped keeping track of distances in terms of miles MANY years ago when I first moved to Houston. I discovered that it was much more useful to know how long it took to GET there (depending on the time of day/night, of course, weather conditions, alternate routes available, etc.). Of course, if you're traveling to another city you know the miles. For example, it's approx. 50 miles from downtown Houston to Galveston, 250 to Dallas, 200 to San Antonio, and so on.

As far as rainfall THIS year is concerned, we're down at least 2" I would think. Last year we had just WONderful rains early which continued throughout the summer. Just deliciously green throughout most of the year.

Rains such as those Allison produced do nothing to promote the land. Quite the contrary.

v8villager said...

I'd not seen your post when I wrote mine yesterday, been pre-occupied with getting cars and learning to dance, working too many hours etc to have time to browse off...

OK - so the UK floods really are just puddles. But I guess the very title of your post gives the game away. "Opening day" - hurricane season. You guys get extreme weather! And its getting more extreme by the looks of it. We have never had extremes until recent years and our extremes are minute in comparison to what you guys get.

Something funny is going on with the weather that seems certain to me. I hear the same from people all over the world.

Goldenrod said...

Still and all, Simon, it was somewhat insensitive of me to comment as I did.

By the way, I can't WAIT to see the videos of you guys dancing! Will your costumes include skirts?