Texas Gulf Coast Counties Rush To Prepare For Tropical Storm Beta

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Tropical Storm Beta slowly turned towards the central Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday. But in the late afternoon it paused over the warm waters, as if to gather itself before launching its first frontal attack on weary communities from Corpus Christi to the Texas-Louisiana border.

Notably, for the first time since the National Hurricane Center began tracking Beta, forecasters were not certain the system would actually grow into a hurricane. Nevertheless, Beta’s approach on Saturday ignited a series of emergency declarations tthroughout southeeastern Texas counties, mirroring Beta’s projected track from Matagorda Bay towards Houston and beyond.

“Beta has been nearly stationary for the past several hours. A westward drift is expected tonight, followed by a slow motion toward the west-northwest that should continue through late Monday,” the NHC advisory explained. “On the forecast track, the center of Beta will slowly approach the Texas coast Sunday and Monday.”

“Slow strengthening is expected during the next couple of days, and Beta could be near hurricane strength as it approaches the Texas coast,” forecasters warned.

A hurricane watch was in effect from Port Aransas to High Island. A tropical storm warning was issued for the region from Port Aransas to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the region south of Port Aransas to the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Forecasters warned Texas communities to expect higher surf, storm surge and heavy rains that would likely soak coastal communities and cities hundreds of miles from the Gulf Coast for most of the coming week.

The latest track on Saturday estimated Beta would make landfall near Matagorda Bay and move northeast over the coastal plain as far as Houston.

In Harris County, the coastal city of Seabrook issued a voluntary evacuation for low-lying areas.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry signed a disaster declaration on Saturday, and emergency officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for the Bolivar Peninsula. “Residents are encouraged to seek safety inland, especially those with medical needs,” officials tweeted. “It’s expected SH87 will become impassable and ferry service may be paused in the next 24hrs.”

In Nueces County, the Corpus Christi Emergency Operations Center announced it would distribute sandbags for several hours on Saturday.

Cameron County emergency managers also announced residents could pick up sandbags on Saturday morning. Port Isabel also handed out sandbags, limiting them to six bags per person and only to residents.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. explained to the public that “we’re having difficulty finding dry sand. So, that’s another one of our concerns. If you have any bags leftover from Hurricane Hanna, please utilize that and allow others to get the new bags as may be needed.”

Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state on Friday to prepare its resources to confront the latest crisis, and on Saturday the Texas Emergency Management Council reported it was ready. “This storm has the potential to bring heavy rain and flooding,” Abbott said in a statement, “and I urge the people the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend to heed the guidance of local emergency officials and remain vigilant. …”

This storm was named Beta because Wilfred, the last name on the NHC’s 2020 list of “Tropical Cyclone Names,” went to a system in the eastern Atlantic that achieved tropical storm strength earlier on Friday, and the name Alpha, the first Greek name, went to a subtropical storm near the coast of Portugal.

Forecasters have not seen this level of activity since 2005.

From now until Nov. 30, any systems that emerge over the Atlantic, Gulf or Caribbean waters and achieve tropical storm or hurricane strength will receive names from the Greek alphabet.

Weather expert Philip Klotzbach tweeted on Friday that “Three Atlantic named storms have formed today: September 18, 2020 – #Wilfred #Alpha #Beta. The only other time on record that the Atlantic had 3 named storm formations on the same calendar day was August 15, 1893.”

Beta emerged near the end of a historically busy week in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf regions.

The Texas Newsroom’s Statewide Newscaster Sascha Cordner contributed to this report.

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