Historic rainfall in Texas ends September drought, floods Galveston and San Antonio

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The sandbags stacked underneath a blue tarp outside the entrance of Solid Gold Beauty Supply on a rain-soaked Monday in Galveston are not exactly a welcoming decorative flourish for a business that traffics in cosmetics, skin care and wigs.

But after another band of rainstorms blew through the island on Monday, dumping an inch of rain per hour on the already water-logged island — on the heels of Galveston’s third-wettest September on record — Chang Choe, the owner of Solid Gold Beauty Supply, is no longer taking any chances.

Galveston is not alone. Houston and the rest of the state have experienced one of the wettest Septembers on record.

“No tropical storms or hurricanes hit Texas, and yet it has been one of the wettest months in the state’s history,” according to Eric Berger, a meteorologist with Space City Weather. “Much of the state received 200 to 400 percent normal levels of rainfall, including all coastal areas of the Houston region.”

In San Antonio, continual rain since Labor Day pushed back the original late September opening of the city’s new water play area, Universal Slashpad, a 4,000 square-foot park with 16 water features. And in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, a yearlong drought ended with September’s record heavy rains.

In Galveston, shop owner Choe lamented that the store flooded three times in the last month because of the rain, with water pooling along the curb outside the store on Broadway and seeping under the door, destroying some of his products and hurting his business. He said he was forced to purchase a water pump so the business wouldn’t lose customers.

“Flooding in Galveston is different than in a lot of places,” said Brian Maxwell, the Galveston city manager. “Our retention and detention is in the streets, they’re doing what they’re designed to do, and they do that to keep water from flooding the buildings, which we’re almost 100 percent successful with, except for downtown sometimes.”

The flooding had mostly receded by mid-afternoon in Galveston. It came on the heels of a sopping weekend that saw up to 4 inches of rain fall per hour on Saturday and the Galveston Shrimp Festival postponed to Sunday. The water receding so quickly is evidence that the island’s long-maligned drainage has improved in the decade after Hurricane Ike turned many major roads into canals.

18 rainy days

Before the weekend’s rain, the National Weather Service reported that it had rained in Galveston 18 out of the first 26 days of September, the third wettest September on record for the island.

Maxwell said even previously safe parts of Galveston experienced flooding which forced the city’s administration to consider measures it never had before. Those measures included strategically placing water pumps — possibly paid for with FEMA disaster money — in drainage outfalls to counter the dual threat of rain storms and tidal ebbs and flows.

Galveston’s Strand Historic District, for example, is closer to the bay side of the island, unprotected from the seawall that acts as a barrier to the Gulf of Mexico for the south side of the island. The Strand is vulnerable to tidal flooding. A typical heavy rainstorm like the one this past Saturday, will fill up the streets in the Strand during high tide, but when the tide recedes, the water flows out of the streets so fast that currents form, carrying the floodwaters back out to the bay.

“The drainage is working like it’s supposed to, we do get some impediment due to tides, but it seems like the frequency and severity of the rain is what really got us this year,” Maxwell said. “We had much more intense rain in a short period of time with Harvey, but I think we’ve had more of it this time.”

Businesses hurting

While the relatively quick drainage of the streets around the Strand are helpful for pedestrians and car traffic, business has waned in the last month. Most island merchants acknowledge that September can be hit or miss because of the start to the school year and fewer tourists frequent Galveston beaches. But Jose Reyna, the owner of Southern Gallery Imports, said September’s nasty weather had a major impact on his receipts.

“(The rain) has pretty much affected the business here for everybody,” Reyna said. “The max today is two dollars that’s come in and I’m pretty sure that’s the same for everybody down here. We need a little boost over here.”

The sandbags aren’t just keeping floodwaters at bay, they are protecting Choe’s livelihood. Choe, who inherited from his sister the building that houses Solid Gold Beauty Supply, said he has considered moving his entire business to Houston to dodge the floods, but the higher mainland rents are prohibitive.

“September, three times we’ve flooded, it used to be one or two times flooding,” Choe said. “When it floods, cars can’t move around here. All the roads are flooded. We’ve lost many days of business. I don’t know what to do.”

Perhaps most unusual about the September rains in Galveston is that it hasn’t been accompanied by a major tropical storm or hurricane. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded the island for several days with intense, focused ferocity, but this year the rains were persistent and steady over an extended period.

Stuck weather patterns

Matt Lanza, a forecast meterologist in Houston’s energy sector and the managing editor of Space City Weather, a site dedicated to covering Houston weather news and forecasting “with accuracy and without hype,” said that repetitive weather patterns have taken hold across North America, leading to periods of sustained rain in many regions, including southeast Texas.

“Sometimes (weather) patterns get stuck and it takes something big to unstick them basically,” Lanza said. “Sometimes it’s a hurricane that ends up changing the pattern — in this case it won’t be — but you need some sort of change to happen.”

The forecast for the rest of the week in Galveston is a bit drier. Higher pressure systems will move into Houston during the middle of this week, which should help limit rainfall. There will still be a low chance of rain, but with some sun mixed in, he said. Unfortunately, the rain could return next weekend with no autumn cold front in sight. Lanza said the last couple of promising cold fronts that came through the region fell apart and actually acted as a focus for more rain.

The good news for island residents and the rest of the region is that the likelihood of a late-season hurricane sweeping the region has dropped precipitously. The last October hurricane to hit Galveston was Hurricane Jerry in 1989.

“Your odds are drastically lower now and I don’t see anything on the horizon to worry about,” Lanza said. “I don’t want to declare that we’re over but I think we’re pretty much done at this point.”

Staff writer Jeff B. Flinn contributed to this report.