Nicholas intensified and made landfall early Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane southwest of Galveston, Tex., lashing the coastline with damaging winds, a dangerous storm surge and torrential downpours that have caused significant flooding.
Late Tuesday, the storm’s wrath was far from spent. As Nicholas lumbered toward Louisiana as a tropical storm, the National Weather Service warned of “areas of life-threatening flash and urban flooding” in central and southern Louisiana, and far southern Mississippi and Alabama through late this week.
Widespread rainfall of 5 to 10 inches was predicted tthrough early Friday with isolated amounts up to 20 inches as the storm was expected to slow to a crawl, even while slowly weakening.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Monday afternoon requested a federal disaster declaration, which President Biden approved Monday night, ordering federal assistance to supplement state and local emergency response efforts.
Some of the worst rainfall was predicted occur through Wednesday in areas still recovering from Hurricane Ida’s catastrophic strike barely 2½ weeks ago. Ida brought winds of over 150 mph to the Mississippi River Delta in coastal Louisiana, knocking out power to all of New Orleans. Nearly 100,000 customers in southeastern Louisiana, mainly west of New Orleans, remain without power, and the same areas are prone to flooding.
“Soils have not yet recovered from Hurricane Ida a couple weeks ago in eastern Louisiana,” the Weather Service wrote.
Periodic downpours were predicted to continue into at least Thursday along the central Gulf Coast as Nicholas shifts east. Flash flood watches extended through New Orleans to as far east as the Florida Panhandle.
“With the amount of debris remaining from Hurricane Ida, some drainage systems may be blocked, causing additional flooding,” the Weather Service office in New Orleans wrote.
A few tornadoes were also possible as the devolving remnants of Nicholas push eastward over the coming days before the system dissipates.
Nicholas was one of several systems being monitored in the Atlantic. This is the peak of the hurricane season, and at least two other systems — one north of Puerto Rico and the other pushing offshore of West Africa — were forecast to develop in the coming days. One is likely to parallel the U.S. East Coast and drift harmlessly offshore, but the other is showing signs of perhaps being a bit more problematic in the long run.
Nicholas now and the forecast: More dangerous flooding expected
At 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, Nicholas was a minimal tropical storm with maximum winds of 40 mph, as it drifted east-northeast at just 6 mph. The storm was centered 50 miles east of Houston, where rain had ended.
Heavy rain was finally exiting Texas; in Port Arthur, radar indicated more than half a foot had fallen. In Louisiana, areas of heavy rain scattered across central and southern parts of the state, although just one flash flood warning was active, west of Lake Charles.
The Weather Service issued a special bulletin for much of southern Louisiana warning of rainfall rates of one to two inches per hour and up to 5 inches of new rainfall through Tuesday evening.
Latest rainfall totals from now until Friday as Nicholas approaches. 5-10in total, with rates of 2-3in per hour are possible at times for some areas. We want to continue to point out, areas that are still recovering from Ida may see flooding happen much faster. #LAwx #MSwx pic.twitter.com/0t8JaSmsDA— NWS New Orleans (@NWSNewOrleans) September 14, 2021
In New Orleans, the heaviest rain was expected Tuesday night, although intermittent downpours could linger into Wednesday.
The Big Easy recorded 9.61 inches of rain in August, including 4.73 from Hurricane Ida. Baton Rouge ended the month with more than 8 inches, and Lake Charles with roughly 7.5 inches. New Orleans already has received an average year’s worth of rainfall, with more than three months to go in 2021; the ground is saturated and cannot handle much more rain.
Nicholas’s landfall as a hurricane
Nicholas moved ashore on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula in Texas shortly after midnight Central time, about 10 miles west-southwest of Sargent Beach, Tex. That’s about 75 miles south-southwest of downtown Houston. Maximum sustained winds were estimated near 75 mph, and several veteran hurricane chasers reported that Nicholas had a potent bite, especially for a Category 1 storm. A gust of 94.5 mph was clocked at Matagorda Bay.
A gust of 78 mph was clocked southeast of Magnolia Beach, with 75 mph winds at Port O’Connor. Hurricane-force gusts also were noted elsewhere along Matagorda Bay, with gusts around 60 mph in Galveston.
Gloria Gonzales, 68, emerged tentatively in the morning from her apartment in Galveston clutching at a faint-blue checkered nightgown embroidered with a pink rose. She had not been able to sleep all night as her apartment vibrated because of the wind gusts and torrential rain.
From her window, she watched strong winds begin peeling the metal off the framework of the covered parking outside at Fort Crockett Apartments on Seawall Boulevard.
“I thought it was just going to be a little tropical storm,” she said. Gonzales, born and raised in Galveston, has been through every storm except Hurricane Ike.
As the winds picked up, she moved her gray Chevrolet to a nearby lot. By morning, the parking lot covering had come down and littered the ground in fragments and sheets. A single unlucky car lay under the corrugated metal. Its owner walked around it, saying nothing.
Have yet to even fall asleep in this extreme noise from the wind and waves Hurricane Nicholas is bringing. Currently I'm in my bed getting sprayed with mist as the balcony doors got blown in taking out a piece of the wall with it and now won't close back up. @weatherchannel pic.twitter.com/VpdMZ0GIEL— Chris Bruin (@TWCChrisBruin) September 14, 2021
Galveston also has proved the hot spot thus far for rainfall, with nearly 14 inches reported.
Deer Park, in Harris County east of Houston, received nearly 10 inches; Sargent had 8.14 inches. Downtown Houston recorded about 6 inches, less than initially projected as the storm took more of a coastal than an inland track.
According to Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, Nicholas was the first hurricane in 13 years to make landfall on the Texas coastline during September, the last one being Ike. It was also the 19th U.S. landfall of a named storm in the past 17 months — an unmatched period of storm activity plaguing the nation.
Storm surge, or the rise in ocean water above normally dry land, had amounted to about 2.7 feet at Galveston Pier 21 shortly before sunrise Tuesday, with 3.5 feet of surge at Eagle Point in Galveston Bay and up to 4.3 feet at nearby Morgans Point. The surge relaxed by midmorning.
Aerial video from Sargent Beach which is near where Hurricane Nicholas made landfall last night. Some storm surge damage as well as some wind damage. #txwx #HurricaneNicholas @NWSHouston pic.twitter.com/AOVBFoSceL— Brian Emfinger (@brianemfinger) September 14, 2021
Other systems to watch
Nicholas had company elsewhere in the Atlantic, including north of Puerto Rico, where a nascent system was given high odds of developing tropical or subtropical characteristics while passing between the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda later this week.
A more concerning system, dubbed Invest 95L, recently rolled off the African coastline near Senegal and was expected gradually to develop as it traverses the east tropical Atlantic westward.
May-Ying Lam in Galveston contributed to this report.
The Atlantic hurricane season
The latest: The 2022 season started out slow, but has rapidly intensified this fall with conditions prime for storms. Fiona brought severe flooding to Puerto Rico before making landfall in Canada, and now we’re tracking Hurricane Ian as it heads for Florida. For the seventh year in a row, hurricane officials expect an above-average season of hurricane activity.
Tips for preparing: We rounded up seven safety tips to help you get ready for hurricanes. Here’s some other guidance about keeping your phone charged and useful in dangerous weather, and what to know about flood insurance.
Understanding climate change: It’s not just you — hurricanes and tropical storms have hit the U.S. more frequently in recent years. And last summer alone, nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster. Read more about how climate change is fueling severe weather events.