It’s flooding down in Texas …

Ah, just as the 1982 Supertramp song “It’s Raining Again,” declares, it is raining once or maybe twice or perhaps even three times again down here in the sodden Southeastern part of Texas.

It has actually flooded in some parts. Houston has largely shut down today as officials say this is the “rainiest day ever, before noon,” according to online magazine Slate.

The many-times lifesaver of urban life in Houston, TranStar showed late this afternoon that water was still standing below 1-10 West, the Katy Freeway, only five miles or so from what  is known as the widest highway in the world.

This still from highway cameras on the Katy Freeway just outside of Houston just after 4 p.m. shows water below still standing. Photo from Fair Usage by TransStar.
This still from highway cameras on the Katy Freeway just outside of Houston just after 4 p.m. shows water below still standing. Photo from Fair Usage by TranStar.

I have been off work today. I had intended to do some work today, including a safety inspection but the other half of my inspecting was prevented from flying from Dallas to Houston or Dallas to Beaumont. I was supposed to be off work today. I didn’t even notice it until I got up and looked at my work calendar that I found I shouldn’t work today. It happens sometimes.

A quick calculation tells me I have lived, on and off, about half of my 60 years in this part of Texas. I have been through about four or five hurricanes, two of them pretty nasty. Plus, the subtropical area in which I live averages between 58-60+ inches of rainfall per year.

But I cannot recall a year that has had the amount of rain over several rain events since I have lived here.

Last month saw some exceptional flooding on the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana where I was raised. Some 12 or maybe more inches of rain fell over the area. But worse, hard hit was the area to the north of Toledo Bend Dam, the largest such impoundment on the Sabine and the last dam before the river meets the Gulf of Mexico.

Toledo Bend Dam and its reservoir is the fifth largest man-made lake in the United States. The dam spans the Texas and Louisiana border. I remember when my Daddy and I crossed the Sabine near there to attend the groundbreaking for the facility back in 1960. I don’t remember a whole lot of the day but I do remember crossing the river in a boat provided by our local fire department. The site for the ceremony was the type of such that one would expect to see in the South. There was plenty of barbecue, several local high school bands, and politicians out the wazoo .

Governors Price Daniel Sr. of Texas and Jimmie Davis of Louisiana were also there. The bands played a rousing rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” when Davis was introduced. It was Davis, a gospel and country singer, who popularized the tune on record in 1940. To add a little perspective, Daniel’s son, Price Daniel Jr., was later elected as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. After leaving office, he was later allegedly shot and killed by his wife, Vickie Daniel, whom he first met while she was a waitress at a Dairy Queen. She was acquitted of murder in the death of Daniel Jr. in a spectacular trial which was recounted in a book and made-for-TV movie.

Ten years later after dirt was first turned, in 1970, the massive reservoir, dam and power plant were finished. It was quite a feat for a facility of that size to be built without the help of the federal government. Both Texas and Louisiana have Sabine River Authorities.

US Geological Survey scientist Jimmy Hopkins takes a stream stream flow measure in Bon Wier, Texas, during the March 2016 flooding. USGS photo by Jody Avant & Jeff East
US Geological Survey scientist Jimmy Hopkins takes a stream stream flow measure in Bon Wier, Texas, during the March 2016 flooding. USGS photo by Jody Avant & Jeff East

Since Toledo Bend Dam has operated, flooding has been at a minimum down river along the nearly 90 miles to the south along Newton County. The same in most cases applied to  Vernon, Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes in Louisiana which are across the Sabine from Newton County. The river then continues on through Orange County and the port of Orange and onto the junction of the Sabine with the Neches River where the salt-water  Sabine Lake empties into the Gulf.

The exception to the flooding has been in low-lying areas where folks have settled on the river banks near Deweyville in southernmost Newton County. However, the March rainfall caused not only severe flooding in Deweyville, but also along the river just south of the dam and all along the river along Newton County and the three Louisiana parishes. More than 5,000 homes were flooded in Deweyville and the surrounding areas.

Some residents, especially those of my age and younger, recall the Sabine River as only endangering a small portion down river from Toledo Bend near Deweyville for flooding over the years. Many, like myself, had mistakenly believed that Toledo was built for flood control. It turns out that it wasn’t. The Sabine River Authority of Texas pointed out in the wake of the flooding that the dam was only built for water supply, electrical generation and recreation. A number of those who were flooded were incensed that, even though weather forecasts had called for such a huge amount of rain along the Texas and Louisiana border, the river authority did not open the gates of the dam which some victims believed might have prevented the flooding. The Texas river authority said that the law prevented the opening of the gates until a certain lake level had been reached. So, the gates did not open until the lake reached the level, which by then, contained a much increased volume from the rainfall.

A group of residents whose homes have been destroyed by flooding have met with attorneys to consider a class action lawsuit against the Sabine River Authority.

Perhaps the March 2016 flooding is of the type that is called by government planning and emergency officials a “100-year” or even “500-year” flood. But one must consider the rains this area has experienced today, including flooding that brings Houston — some two hours away from the Sabine River — to its knees. It seems at times that is just too foolish to try and outguess nature.


Flooding shutters Interstate 10 at Texas-La. border

The flooding along the Texas and Louisiana border is undoubtedly no big national story. That is because, perhaps, a half-million people reside there as opposed to larger metro areas. The same limited media coverage also happened in this part of the U.S. during Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Sure there were the TV people who parachuted in and got their “Dan Rather” routine, trying to stand up in the wind and rain while talking. I imagine some of these folks could even chew gum at the same time.

But have no doubt this flooding is affecting millions of people merely because the flood waters in the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana has submerged Interstate 10. Texas transportation officials say it could be Tuesday or later until it is reopened.

The most recent Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) figures, that I could find after an hour of searching, from 2013 shows about 48,500 automobiles travel I-10 just outside the southwestern Beaumont city limit. Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city is, mostly, west from there some 75-to-80 miles. Near where Interstate 10 intersects with what are basically three highways in Beaumont — US 69, US 96 and US 287 — more than 130,000 vehicles travel per day. On about 25 miles east, at the Texas-Louisiana border, the traffic count is about 46, 000. You talk about cars, trucks, buses to the Louisiana casinos, and so forth going here and there, that is a lot of people.


The flooding at the I-10 bridge at the Texas border in Orange — that city was devastated from storm surge in 2008 from Hurricane Ike  and now may see even worse flooding — was the scene Wednesday of confusion between the two states and no doubt left much head-scratching among those in the more than 46,000 vehicles which head east and west.

It is really difficult to keep up with the confusing details of the I-10 closures at the Texas-Louisiana border. Wednesday morning, TxDOT was supposedly poised to close the Sabine River bridge. The Louisiana State Police did close the westbound lanes to the bridge. But the eastbound routes remained open, for awhile at least. Returning from Houston yesterday on I-10, I saw probably five or six electronic signs that warned the bridge was completely closed, in both directions.

Amid this confusion, TxDOT issued some I-10 alternate route information that made me wonder if the information was clear enough for the average driver who does not live in this part of the state, or even if they are from elsewhere.

  • El Paso take I-20 East of Van Horn
  • San Antonio take I-35 North to I-20 East to Shreveport
  • Houston take US 59 North to I-20 East to Shreveport
  • Beaumont take US 96 North to US 69 North to US 59 North to I-20 East to Shreveport

At least the last alternative made apprehensive. US 96 to 69 — remember they are considered the same along with US 287 going northward from Beaumont. That is really no problem but I think the transportation department might have added: In Lufkin, turn right on Loop 287 and take the US 59 exit toward Nacogdoches. Trust me, I lived in Nacogdoches for many years and those directions are seared in my brain.

All of those alternatives were not meant for me, of course. I think later, when the Sabine River bridge was opened on US 190 in Bon Wier, Texas, TxDOT gave the alternative to travel up US 96 to US 190 in Jasper, from where the state line is about 25 miles east to southeast on that highway toward Baton Rouge.

I worked today so maybe I didn’t read everything about traffic on I-10 that I needed to. I was quite surprised though when heading to downtown Beaumont this morning where I-10 was reduced from three lanes to one lane. It turned out, I didn’t even have the option of going on east to downtown. Traffic was being rerouted at the I-10 split with US 69/96/287. I found a way off and made my on alternate route to downtown. I wish I had known that I couldn’t drive on the interstate the way I usually do. To be fair, I had to go out westbound on I-10 later on, and coming home I saw that an electric sign message said that the interstate would be closed at the exit where the routes to the Piney Woods split.

These are all minor inconveniences to me. The majority of the area hit hardest on the Texas side of the Sabine is where I grew up and where my closest relatives and  old friends still reside. Several family members are working to keep others safe. One of those — a niece — is helping others even though she and her family had to be rescued by military personnel. Hopes for her home surviving are dismal, from the last messages I have seen.

This is, literally, a disaster. A large portion of this area in Texas has been declared a disaster area by the state. Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican executive of Texas, flew over the region in a chopper. I am hopeful President Obama will also declare these counties as a disaster area.

Looking at such wreckage makes you forget your own minor problems — like some traffic slow-down. I do hope TxDOT will learn from their mistakes and miscues. Obviously, Texas and our neighbor to the east need better communication.

TD Bill. Time for you to mosey.

The loud beeps from my work Blackberry and my personal iPhone have unnerved me this afternoon as they do.  Normally, when that happens it is at night, But this, Tropical Depression Bill I believe it is now called, has been pouring down the rain this afternoon.

The flash flood warning for the Beaumont-Port Arthur Metropolitan Area has been extended several hours until 7:45 p.m. CDT for all counties except for the northern part of Newton County. The National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, La., says one to three inches of rain has fallen over the area. I would have to guess that “locally” heavier amounts have fallen.

It's always raining something around Beaumont, Texas
It’s always raining something around Beaumont, Texas

Like all tropical systems, Bill has had its quirks. When it landed on the south-central Texas coast my area on the utmost Texas coast got a serving of on-and-off showers. This started happening more than 24 hours ago. I didn’t go out much yesterday, I had no need to do so. But I walked out a couple of times to the lightest of rain and a nice “breeze” of about 12 mph. As the storm degraded to a tropical depression, the rain has picked up in eastern Texas. Thus, the flash flood warnings.

Those of us here about 30 miles from the Gulf have slight elevation. Beaumont, where I live, is about 16 feet above sea level. I don’t know, if I ever knew, where that “mountain” of elevation is. Perhaps it is at Spindletop, the salt dome where the Lucas Gusher blew in on Jan. 10, 1901. That is the famous gusher that is known as the “birthplace of the modern petroleum industry.” Names such as Texaco and Gulf Oil became familiar after those companies started up after the gusher.

This is all to say that the area around Beaumont is mostly flat as an oil-topped pancake. I have seen a lot of water here in the nearly 10 years I have lived here. Or 12-something if you count two other times I was a resident here. Most of that water came in large amounts, such as with Hurricane Ike which was a flood-surging machine. Many of the other localized floods were just high enough to miss most automobiles. There is a trick in driving through street flooding, at least to get out of it. That involves not creating a wake. Just pretend you are driving a small fishing boat.

It’s still raining. I am no longer working for the week so I can kick back and stay out of the water unless someone wants to pay me to do so.

Bill will be problems for Oklahoma and then off to maybe the Tennessee Valley and beyond once it clears out. Hopefully, we won’t worry about ol’ Bill for much longer. I hope those beyond don’t have to fret about it either.


Waiting on Bill that isn’t Bill as this is written

Update: The National Weather Service forecast station in Lake Charles, La., the forecast office for my area, will have an update on the storm at 7 p.m. CDT and can be watched on


6:15 p.m. CDT

Whoopee!!! It’s hurricane season again. And it looks as if the first tropical disruption might be official this evening. The “whoopee” is facetiousness.

I made a bit of money reporting and writing during the whole Katrina/Rita/Humberto/Ike set of tropical cyclones over the 2005-2008 time frame. Seems like I am leaving one off. I am certain there was another one. It didn’t hit here but there were some evacuations. I can’t remember. So many storms, so few memory cells. Nevertheless, I am here to tell you that tropical storms, hurricanes, pretty much suck. Thought I was going to say “blow” didn’t you? Well, that too.

Hurricanes, even tropical depressions can kill. That doesn’t happen much in the United States with exceptions, such as Katrina the most recent deadly storm. But dangerous tropical cyclones run up huge death tolls in some of the less-developed locales on the planet.

A couple of reasons for the lower body count in the U.S. is not because of the storms itself but because of improved warning systems and folks adhering to those admonitions. Although, some people still aren’t easily warned.

Even today, Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 remains a source of investigation from seemingly every type of social and physical science. A total of about 1,800 people in the U.S. — from Florida and Georgia to Louisiana — died from the storm. The toll in Louisiana alone was almost 1,600 and around 240 in Mississippi. Several reasons were found in studies why Katrina’s casualty count was that on par of a disaster-torn “third-world country.” Flooding and its death toll in New Orleans were directly tied to the collapse of the city’s levee system. Of course, the population of those victims were largely elderly and poor. Many couldn’t evacuate for one reason or the other are were too tied to their property to do so.

This picture taken after Hurricane Katrina in Long Beach, Miss., shows the destruction. The street, Jeff Davis Ave., is at the bottom of the picture is about two football fields away from the Gulf of Mexico. About 25 years before I would go to see my friend Christine who worked about 3/10 of a mile on US 90 at the Waffle House. Time flies like a hurricane. FEMA picture
This picture taken after Hurricane Katrina in Long Beach, Miss., shows the destruction. The street, Jeff Davis Ave., at the bottom of the picture is about two football fields away in distance from the Gulf of Mexico. About 25 years before I would stop for a cup of coffee and to see my friend Christine who worked about 3/10 of a mile on US 90 at the Waffle House. Time flies like a hurricane. FEMA picture

The Mississippi death toll came mostly from storm surge. Some of the victims had rode out the previous killer hurricane Camille and believed if they made it through Camille, they’d make it through this storm. Some did but others didn’t.

I learned a little about hurricanes having gone through those storms. For Rita I evacuated about 60 miles northeast of Beaumont, where I lived, and experienced probably the same amount of wind and rain as had I stayed home. I learned a little more about humanity from those storms as well. Each storm and having written about them gave me a little increased knowledge about hurricanes.

These days I don’t profess to be a hurricane expert. While those storms can be kind of a rush, I still would prefer to read about them than to go through them. As for this little storm off our coast, it will do what it does. It will probably rain an inch or two, which is added to what feels like a ton of rain we have already had this year.

The weather people on TV said the National Weather Service has yet to declare tropical depression or tropical storm warnings for what would be the named storm “Bill” is that the storm is basically not wrapped tight enough. That’s what I get at least. The National Hurricane Center says the storm has a 90 percent chance that it will be a named storm before it comes ashore within the next 12-24 hours. That is despite the storm has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. That is already the speed for a Tropical Storm.

We all learn as we go, right?


Locked inside your car on a hot day isn’t so funny

Something strange happened yesterday that had it not ended in the death of a man the episode might have landed in the “funny” column. Let us expound upon this: It was “funny odd” and not funny “LOL.”

I was downtown on business thus I drove the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze that is my work-mobile. I had just finished having the first oil change for that auto. Perhaps I should point out that it was hot yesterday. How hot was it? Well, the official temp at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland was 92 around that same time with a heat index of 102 degrees F. I was near the Port of Beaumont, some 15 miles northwest of the airport. I believe that I read somewhere that the highest point in the county in elevation is 24 feet. Occasionally a sea breeze rolls in some 30 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico. Still, I suppose we can settle upon “hot” as our answer to the question “how hot was it?”

Once I had settled inside the hot Cruze I strapped in and attempted to turn the key. It didn’t turn.

Using my large mechanically-inclined though mostly facetious brain I figured if the key didn’t work nothing else should work. So I combed through the owner’s manual eying the key section. That  selection had a lot of information, I was shown how my key was supposed to work. It even taught me how to start my car remotely. It didn’t tell me what to do if my key did not work.

While sweating profusely inside the sweltering car I began wondering what might happen if I were locked inside. My cell was working so I could call for help. But just to test out conditions I opened my car door. I also was able to use my window buttons. Apparently the key was turned just enough for that.

But I couldn’t figure out why the key didn’t turn all the way over. I finally looked at that GSA help book that was with my car when I first picked it up in Houston some 4,600 miles back. I eventually found a number for a technician. Fortunately, I got a laid back guy on the line who asked a couple of questions. Among those questions, did you try moving the steering wheel back and forth? No, I hadn’t tried that. So I tried that a couple of times and the car ignition fired up like it always did.

The technician teased me saying: “You can send me the check.” I said: “Huh.” It turned out he was joking. It’s easy to get your brain fried in that heat. That’s where I get to the part where the story is not funny (Ha-ha.)

On the local news last night I heard about Port Arthur police finding a man dead in his car outside the Waffle House on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard. Yes, it’s that Jimmy Johnson, the coach. He is a native of Port Arthur. So is Janis Joplin. So is rapper Bun B and so was his late rapping partner Pimp C. I’ve been to that same Waffle House before. Some nice people work there. The Waffle House is also only a mile or so from the airport, the official weather station,

The victim, who was known to frequent the restaurant for coffee and to charge his cell phone, died along with his dog inside a 2007 Corvette. Police said he had apparently attempted to get out of his car but was unable to do so. One TV report indicated he might have become stuck while trying to exit through the back window.

Police officers said a battery cable apparently became loose which caused the electronic doors to lock inside. According to this You Tube video produced by a man who sells the Corvettes, the G6 generation of the cars have alternate ways to both enter and exit when ea battery loses power. If outside, there is an actual key inside the fob that allows the driver to open a rear lock hidden from sight. Once inside, a mechanical device inside the rear of the car can be pulled to open the door. If locked on the inside, a lever with a red marking is located on the outside of the seat.

This linked article indicated the victim’s relatives said the “proximity key” worked sometimes but not at others. I am not really sure what that has to do with getting locked inside. The car is supposedly a G6. I’m not sure how long the man had the car or how familiar with his means of entrance and egress. On the other hand, there could have been a malfunction in the front lever and perhaps he indeed became stuck trying to use the rear exit handle.

I really don’t know what happened to the deceased. The incident certainly left a great deal of questions.