What to Know
- Hurricane Nicholas made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane along the Texas coast early Tuesday.
- Maximum wind speeds reached 75 mph at landfall; Nicholas downgraded to a tropical storm by 4 a.m.
- Widespread power outages were reported in Southeast Texas by Tuesday morning.
Tropical Storm Nicholas hit the Texas coast early Tuesday as a hurricane and dumped more than a foot of rain along the same area swamped by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, drenching storm-battered Louisiana, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of people and bringing the potential for life-threatening flash floods across the Deep South.
Nicholas made landfall on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula and was soon downgraded to a tropical storm. It was about 15 miles south-southwest of Houston, Texas, with maximum winds of 60 mph as of 7 a.m. CDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Nicholas was the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.
Galveston saw nearly 14 inches of rain from Nicholas while Houston reported more than 6 inches of rain — a fraction of what fell during Harvey, which dumped more than 60 inches of rain in southeast Texas over a four-day period.
In the small coastal town of Surfside Beach about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of Houston, Kirk Klaus, 59, and his wife Monica Klaus, 62, rode out the storm in their two-bedroom home, which sits about 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) above the ground on stilts.
"It was bad. I won't ever do it again," Kirk Klaus said.
He said it rained all day on Monday and, as the night progressed, the rainfall and winds got worse.
Sometime around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the strong winds blew out two of his home's windows, letting in rain and forcing the couple to continually mop their floors. Klaus said the rainfall and winds created a storm surge of about 2 feet in front of his home.
"It looked like a river out here," he said.
Nicholas is moving so slowly it will dump several inches of rain as it crawls over Texas and southern Louisiana, meteorologists said. This includes areas already struck by Hurricane Ida and devastated last year by Hurricane Laura. Parts of Louisiana are saturated with nowhere for the extra water to go, so it will flood, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
“It’s stuck in a weak steering environment,” McNoldy said Tuesday. So while the storm itself may weaken “that won’t stop the rain from happening. Whether it’s a tropical storm, tropical depression or post-tropical blob, it’ll still rain a lot and that’s not really good for that area.”
The storm was moving north-northeast at 6 mph and the center of Nicholas was expected to move slowly over southeastern Texas on Tuesday and over southwestern Louisiana on Wednesday.
Nicholas, expected to weaken into a tropical depression by Wednesday, could dump up to 20 inches of rain in parts of central and southern Louisiana.
Much of Texas’ coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.
In Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive by Tuesday could inundate streets and flood homes. Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
“This city is very resilient. We know what we need to do. We know about preparing,” said Turner, referencing four major flood events that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey.
Meteorologist Kent Prochazka of the National Weather Service told The Associated Press early Tuesday that Nicholas’ winds downed trees in coastal counties and caused some gas stations to lose awnings.
“Right before it made landfall, it abruptly intensified into a hurricane and as it moved inland, the pressures began to rise with it. The winds have relaxed slightly and now we’re getting down into tropical storm force (winds),” he said.
CenterPoint Energy reported that over 450,000 customers were without power as the storm rolled through Houston.
Numerous school districts along the Texas Gulf Coast canceled classes Monday because of the incoming storm. The Houston school district, the state’s largest, as well as others, announced that classes would be canceled on Tuesday. The weather threat also closed multiple COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas and forced the cancellation of a Harry Styles concert scheduled for Monday evening in Houston.
A tornado or two may be possible Tuesday along the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coast, according to the weather service.
“Listen to local weather alerts and heed local advisories about the right and safe thing to do, and you’ll make it through this storm just like you’ve had many other storms,” Abbott said during a news conference in Houston.
Nicholas brought rain to the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey. That storm made landfall in the middle Texas coast then stalled for four days, dropping more than 60 inches of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
After Harvey, voters approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood-control projects, including the widening of bayous. The 181 projects designed to mitigate damage from future storms are at different stages of completion.
But University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said he expects that Nicholas “will be magnitudes less than Harvey in every regard.”
"It's not crazy amounts of rain. It isn't anything like Hurricane Harvey kind of thing with feet of rain," McNoldy said. Harvey not only stalled for three days over the same area, it moved a bit back into the Gulf of Mexico, allowing it to recharge with more water. Nicholas won't do that, McNoldy said.
The worry with Nicholas will be how slowly it moves. Storms are moving slower in recent decades, and Nicholas could get stuck between two other weather systems, said hurricane researcher Jim Kossin of The Climate Service.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding.
“The most severe threat to Louisiana is in the southwest portion of the state, where recovery from Hurricane Laura and the May flooding is ongoing,” Edwards said.
On Monday, Misty Tran dreaded the thought of Nicholas reaching as far east as her home south of New Orleans in Empire, Louisiana. Ida damaged the roof of Tran's mobile home. A tarp covers the roof now, Tran said, but it wouldn't be a match for even a weak storm.
"A tarp can only do so much," said Tran, helping clean up at a marina where she works.
The storm was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago. Ida has been blamed for 86 deaths throughout the United States. Across Louisiana, about 93,000 customers remained without power Tuesday morning, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.
Associated Press Writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.