500-year storms now becoming regular part of Southeast Texas life
On Sept. 18, around 9 p.m., I was shaken awake by my dad. Not yet awake, I heard him saying, “Get up, there’s water coming into the house.” I couldn’t tell if it was a joke.
I wish it had been.
Sept. 18 brought the wrath of tropical storm Imelda to Southeast Texas. The rain was steady all day, but no one knew how much worse it was going to get.
As with Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Imelda was a storm that sat over Southeast Texas for hours, continuously dumping rain on the water-weary area.
When Harvey hit, article after article was released calling it a “500-year flood.” That title can be misleading, however. It suggests that floods like Harvey and Imelda only happen once every 500 years, but it actually means that in any given year, there is a one in 500 chance that a flood of such magnitude will occur, according to the National Weather Service.
Imelda brought an estimated 43 inches of water to some parts of Southeast Texas. In comparison, during Harvey, some parts of Southeast Texas received as much as 60 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, although that was over several days, not several hours.
Although two years have passed, the wound that Harvey left on this area is still fresh, and storms like Imelda only irritate it.
Every time heavy rains come, people always joke that they have “Post-traumatic Storm Disorder,” and while they might say it with a bit of a smile or laugh, the underlying anxiety and fear of another flood is visible.
This situation — expansive flooding, tales of rescues, school and city closures, evacuation orders and the rebuilding process — has become normal. So normal, that in order for people to be able to stay in this area without having to rebuild their houses every other year, more precautions need to be taken when building houses, or anything for that matter.
After Hurricane Ike decimated the Gulf Coast in 2008, new building codes were implemented forcing residents in Galveston’s West End and on Bolivar Peninsula to rebuild their houses on stilts.
The same might have to be done here in order for people to stay in Southeast Texas.
According to Climate.gov, the sea levels have been rising over the past century, and increased steadily in recent decades. In 2018, global mean sea level was 3.2 inches above the 1993 average — the highest annual average in the satellite record. It was the seventh consecutive year, and the 23rd out of the last 25 years in which global mean sea level increased relative to the previous year.
Rising sea levels mean more catastrophic flooding, increasing the odds of a 500-year flood.
Harvey was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime storm, but as the past few days have shown, we need to be constantly prepared to combat severe flooding.
I was one of the lucky ones this time around. My home suffered minor flood damage. But for several people in the community, this random fast-acting tropical storm has only worsened the wounds of a hardly forgotten natural disaster.
Next time, it could be worse for everyone — and there will be a next time.
Olivia Malick, UP editor