Southern Brazoria County saw conditions begin to worsen Monday evening as Tropical Storm Nicholas tracked closer to anticipated landfall and to the area, and officials urge that residents not take it lightly.
“You never take these storms lightly,” Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said. “Looking back just in my lifetime, I look back at Tropical Storm Claudette in 1979, Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The tropical storms are where we get the largest amounts of rainfall.”
Even Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was more of a tropical storm when it reached Brazoria County, he said.
“The biggest problems are the slow-moving storms,” Sebesta said. “It doesn’t appear this one is going to be that, but we just need to be prepared because just two weeks ago our neighbors in Louisiana got a really bad storm in Hurricane Ida, and at some point in time, we’re going to get a really bad storm. We don’t want to be complacent. We always want to take these tropical events seriously.”
Expected to make landfall late Monday in the vicinity of Matagorda Bay, the storm was projected to bring heavier rain bands and the possibility of flash flooding, National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Cady said.
“As the system pushes onshore it should track off to the northeast and conditions should start to improve later (Tuesday) afternoon,” he said.
Without the slowdown or multi-foot rain totals expected as seen during Harvey, but Nicholas is not to be taken lightly, Cady said.
“This isn’t something you would compare to Harvey, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious situation that people need to take precautions of,” he said.
County and city officials have been monitoring the situation and will continue to do so, they said.
“In regard to flooding, I expect the normal roads in Freeport will be converting a lot of water when the rain really starts to come down tonight,” Freeport City Manager Tim Kelty said. “Folks are encouraged to stay off the roadways because they might be impassable. When roads are flooded, when you drive through them it causes a wake and pushes water further onto people’s property, which could cause additional property damage.”
Cady emphasized a phrase the National Weather Service is known for: “Turn around, don’t drown.”
“The vast majority of flood-related deaths in the U.S. do occur in vehicles while the victim is driving,” he said. “When we say ‘Turn around, don’t drown’ … we really do mean it. It only takes about a foot of moving water to sweep a car away, and that’s a lot less than most people think.”
In anticipation of drainage problems, Freeport is taking the preventative measure of having extra pumps on hand, including one stationed at Second Street by the railway underpass and one on Velasco Boulevard, Kelty said. He expected both of those roads to flood and hold water, he said.
“We have two backups at the pump station by the service center,” he said.
Mayor Brooks Bass planned to sign an emergency declaration Monday evening, Kelty said. Sebesta planned to sign one today.
“It will enable the city to take advantage of state and federal assistance when it becomes available if in fact there is damage,” Kelty said.
Drainage in Oyster Creek looked good, Mayor Justin Mills said Monday evening.
“If the need arises, we got it (a shelter) situated; we will be able to accommodate,” he said. “If it was to open, it would be split up between the community center and fire department, and the church has told us at one point we had an in there, too.”
With just one inch of rain by early evening, Jones Creek’s outlook was similar, though there were no plans to open a shelter, Mayor Terry Jeffers said.
“It’s kind of a wait and see what will happen here,” he said.
West of the Brazos
Brazoria Mayor Roger Shugart urged residents to stay indoors as much as possible.
“We are expecting this storm when it moves in, we may not have hurricane winds, but we expect some trees to come down,” he said. “When trees come down, we will probably lose power. We are already getting geared up for clean-up after this happens.”
City officials plan to record the calls that come in for downed trees and power loss, Shugart said.
“If we have winds at about 35 miles per hour, we aren’t going to send anybody out there because it is too dangerous,” he said. “No one should be out there anyway. From about 12 a.m. to 6 or 7 in the morning, there won’t be any removal of trees.”
Shugart warns residents not to attempt to remove trees that have fallen on power lines and call for help from the appropriate authorities in case of an urgent emergency.
Already at 7 p.m. Monday, emergency calls for trees falling on power lines and transformers sparking were commonplace.
Sweeny City Manager Reece Cook has been in constant contact with local leaders, businesses and churches for potential shelter sites and precautionary measures if the weather worsens. Plans were underway to open a shelter if needed, he said.
Both cities will monitor rainfall; like Shugart, Cook urged people to stay in their homes.
The Brazoria County Parks Department did not have any reports of river overflow or flooding as of Monday afternoon, either at its coastal properties or Hanson Riverside Park, which is especially prone to flooding, Parks Director Bryan Frazier said.
“We are watching them very closely, but it’s not at a level to where we see substantial flooding yet,” Frazier said. “We haven’t seen any storm surge at this point. We are just following the recommendations of the National Weather Service. We have those calls a couple of times a day. We are bracing for the possibility.”
The county’s jetty park and beach access roads are closed through at least Tuesday, Frazier said.
Because both the Brazos and San Bernard levels are partularly low, little if any flooding is projected along their paths in Brazoria County.
Minor flooding is possible according to the National Weather Service Advanced Hydriological Prediction Service. At 7 p.m. Monday, the gauge at Old Ocean showed the river level at less than 3 feet. It is forecast to crest at 10.6 feet at midday Wednesday; moderate flood stage at that gaauge is 11 feet.
The Brazos River is well below its lowest flood stage of 43 feet at the Rosharon gauge. Flowing at just above 7 feet before Nicholas’ feeder bands started dropping rain onto the county, it is not expected to exceed 16.1 feet before starting to recede Wednesday afternoon.
All Southern Brazoria County school districts, including Damon ISD, extended closure through today. Private schools including Angleton Christian and Brazosport Christian, Our Lady Queen of Peace and Brazos Learning Montessori School will remain closed through today.
School districts anticipate reopening Wednesday. Columbia-Brazoria ISD will provide an update by 6 p.m. Tuesday regarding any further cancelations, Superintendent Steven Galloway said.
All extracurricular activities have also been canceled.
As always, Sebesta urged county residents to stay tuned to reliable news sources and not believe everything they read on Facebook and Twitter.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks that like to get out on social media and just spew crap, and that causes people to panic and when people panic they make bad decisions,” he said. “All I ask is that they stay in tune with credible news sources for good information to be able to make good decisions.”