For the fourth time in the last five years, parts of Southeast Texas are facing what hydrologists are calling a “500-year flood event,” and farmers and ranchers across the region are again dealing with livestock rescues and assessing other damages related to agriculture, even as the rains continue to fall.
“We have scattered reports that ranchers are already trying to locate, rescue and round up livestock in the wake of the storms that have been rolling through the last few days,” reported Jefferson County Emergency Office’s Allison Getz. “The storms are still raging and we’re fairly early on in what we think might be a bigger rain event over the next day or so.”
While Getz was unable to provide official rain accumulation numbers Thursday, reports from area emergency personnel in the field and from the National Weather Service in Harris County noted that as much as 40 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Southeast in the 72-hour period beginning Monday afternoon and ending Thursday.
“And the rains are still coming down,” said a dispatcher at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “We have a report from a farmer in Stowell (near Winnie, Texas) this morning that he has received over 40 inches of rain at his place.”
Phone calls to Dr. Mo Way at the Texas AgriLife Research Center in Beaumont and several county agents in counties across Southeast Texas failed “because of temporary disruptions of communication” according to recorded messages.
According to the Harris County Flood Control District, Harris and adjoining counties have suffered through three “500-year flood events” in recent years including Memorial Day floods in 2015 and 2016, followed by Hurricane Harvey's torrential rains in late August of 2017 when the tropical system dropped over 50 inches of water over a seven-day period in some areas of the region.
With NWS accumulation reports indicating a range of 8 to 30 inches of rain have already fallen in Southeast Texas, Tropical Storm Imelda’s storms could represent the fourth time the region has suffered a 500-year rain event.
Water rescues were ongoing in at least six counties by Thursday, Sept. 19, according to the Harris County Emergency Management Office. Getz is reporting several communities less affected by floodwaters have dispatched high water rescue vehicles to Beaumont and surrounding communities.
“We have also heard crews from Galveston are on the scene and involved in rescues,” she said.
Many schools and government offices across the region were closed Thursday and officials indicated they were uncertain when normal hours would resume.
NWS forecasters say the slow-moving Tropical Storm Imelda, now downgraded to a low depression system, is the culprit for the current flood event. Hurricane Harvey was also a slow-moving storm and was responsible for historic flood levels in the Houston metro and surrounding area.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday declared a state of disaster in 13 counties, saying in a press release the severe weather “caused widespread and severe property damage and threatens loss of life."
Getz is reporting at least one farmer has lost his life trying to rescue a horse when he was struck by lightning.
“We aren’t certain if there will be an organized hay collection campaign for livestock owners like there was for Hurricane Harvey. We aren’t sure that will be needed at this point,” Getz advised.
But she said those in need or those with the ability to volunteer services should contact her through her email address to be included in additional notices as they become available. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Just contact me and I should be able to get you whatever you need,” she said.