September is rightfully regarded as the peak of Hurricane season, and it certainly seems to living up to its reputation.
Three hurricanes are churning through the Atlantic Ocean — one of them a serious concern for people from the mid-Atlantic seaboard south to the Carolinas.
A tropical wave is heading into the Gulf of Mexico and could develop into a tropical depression or tropical storm by week’s end, meaning another wet weekend for Southeast Texas.
And a round of storms moved into the region Monday afternoon, fueled by a low-pressure system and an already moist atmosphere, bringing strong winds, lightning and heavy downpours.
As of 7 p.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center increased the chances for tropical development in the western Gulf of Mexico to 60 percent between Wednesday and Saturday, warning coordination meteorologist Roger Erickson of the National Weather Service said.
Erickson said the system was projected to head toward southern Texas by the end of the week. He said the Weather Service would continue to monitor the tropical development.
The system is expected to dump 5 to 7 inches of rain in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana, Erickson said in an email to the Enterprise. Tides will also run a foot above average, causing some minor coastal flooding during high tide.
On the East Coast, officials called for mandatory evacuations along the entire South Carolina coast and for the Outer Banks in North Carolina as Hurricane Florence, which strengthened Monday into a category 4 storm, bore down on them. Hurricanes Isaac and Helene remain far out in the Atlantic.
A flash-flood watch was in effect most of the day in Liberty, Chambers and other counties west and northwest of Beaumont as storms rumbled in from the south.
“Some of Monday’s heavier downpours were at 2 inches an hour,” said Francisco Sanchez, spokesman for the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. Those high rain rates can lead to flooding, he said — always a worry in areas that have flooded before.
“We’re watching it very closely,” Sanchez said.
The rain is expected to last into the weekend.
The area’s primary concern is a storm system moving into the Gulf of Mexico. The tropical wave hasn’t become a tropical storm yet, but it has a 50 percent chance of developing into something stronger as it moves into the gulf, said National Weather Service forecaster Nikki Hathaway.
That could mean anything from a tropical depression to an all-out hurricane, Hathaway said, developing in the next five days.
That storm system seems dead-set on the Texas coast, but “we’ll have to keep an eye on it,” Hathaway said. Before the center of the storm forms, she said, “it’s hard to track where it will move exactly.”
The wave, if it follows its path and hits the Texas coast, “has some potential to create some significant rain on the weekend,” said Sanchez. And by then, he said, the ground will be saturated from rains earlier in the week.
“People should really be checking the forecast a couple of times a day,” Sanchez said. “There’s a lot of variables to how this is going to pan out.”
Beyond that tropical wave, three hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic —Florence, Helene and Isaac — but none are expected to change the Gulf Coast forecast.
Florence is expected to hit the east coast of the United States sometime Friday. Helene is tracking northwest before it’s expected to take a sharp turn north in the Atlantic. And Isaac should move west into the Caribbean this weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Houston-area residents can’t be blamed for feeling nervous about the rain, Sanchez said. On the Fourth of July, plenty of streets inside the 610 loop were impassable because of floodwater. Then “on Labor Day weekend, we had the same forecast, but we lucked out,” he said.
“Our job is to be ready for it in either scenario,” Sanchez said.
Phoebe Suy contributed from Beaumont.