Drenched Houston Gears Up for Full Impact of Tropical Storm Beta

Rafael Juarez rides his bicycle through a street flooded by Tropical Storm Beta on Monday, as he makes his way home from the store in Galveston, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON (CN) — Houstonians awoke Tuesday to pouring rain and flooded freeways from Tropical Storm Beta after it made landfall late Monday 100 miles northeast of Corpus Christi with 45 mph winds.

It is the ninth named storm to reach the U.S. mainland this year, tying a record set in 1916.

The slow-moving storm, which meteorologists expect to dump 15 inches of rain in parts of southeast Texas before trundling toward Arkansas by tonight, had already flooded State Highway 288 in Houston early Tuesday morning, forcing a few people to abandon their water-logged vehicles after the highway was closed.

Outer bands of rain from Beta started soaking Houston on Monday night, swelling bayous beyond their banks. Houston firefighters had rescued 20 people from flooded vehicles by midnight Tuesday, Chief Samuel Peña tweeted.

Peña took to Twitter again early Tuesday to scold drivers taking their chances on submerged roadways.

“When we see fire/smell smoke where it shouldn’t be, fight-or-flight instinct makes us get the hell out…So why is it that when we come to a road completely covered in murky water, some still make the decision to hit the gas and go for it?” he wrote.

Around noon Tuesday, Peña said the Houston Fire Department had rescued nearly 100 motorists over the last 16 hours.

Officials have issued voluntary evacuation advisories from the Louisiana-Texas border to west of Corpus Christi, and school districts throughout the region canceled in-person classes Tuesday.

By Tuesday afternoon floodwaters had entered the homes of residents of a South Houston neighborhood near Hobby Airport.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 29 counties Monday.

“The State of Texas is working closely with local officials on the ground to provide the resources our communities need to respond to Tropical Storm Beta and keep residents safe,” Abbott said in a statement.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday.

Strand Street in Galveston, Texas, is flooded because of Tropical Storm Beta on Monday. (AP Photo/The Galveston County Daily News, Jennifer Reynolds)

Residents of western Louisiana whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds on Aug. 27, scrambled over the weekend and into Monday to secure their homes with tarps to keep mold-inducing rain from Beta out.

Laura damaged 95% of the 30,000 structures in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told the Associated Press he was worried about the “emotional and mental toll” Beta will have on the city’s 78,000 residents.

September is historically a bad month for hurricanes in Louisiana and Texas. Fifteen years ago Tuesday, millions of Houstonians evacuated north and west from the city to get out of the path of Hurricane Rita.

The evacuation and broiling heat, with temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, proved more deadly than the hurricane, as dozens of people died from heat exhaustion after their cars overheated and stalled on freeways so packed with cars that traffic stood still for hours.

Beta was moving northwest at 3 mph early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. It said Beta is expected to stall inland Tuesday before moving northeast Tuesday night.

Talk of stalling storms brings back bad memories for Houston residents after Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 30 inches of rain here over four days in August 2017 and caused more than $100 billion in flood damage in southeast Texas.

But meteorologists say Beta will be nowhere near as destructive because it is not as organized as Harvey was and has fewer rain bands, spread farther apart. Beta is also encountering dry air and wind shear from the north, which prevented it from strengthening into a hurricane. 

Beta is the 23rd named storm of the 2020 season and the 10th named storm in September, the most in recorded history for the month.

Meteorologists took up the Greek alphabet after Tropical Storm Wilfred finished the year’s Atlantic Hurricane names list on Sept. 18. Storms Alpha and Beta were named that same day, NBC News meteorologist Kathryn Prociv reported.

“In the event that more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin in a season, additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

Only storms expected to cause significant damage are named.

The hurricane season goes from June through November.

Water along Hwy 27 Cameron, La., as Tropical Storm Beta moves closer to shore, Monday. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)
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