HARLINGEN — The soggy ghost of June past just made a very unwelcome appearance.
Nearly one year to the day after record-setting rains hit the Rio Grande Valley, dropping 16.85 inches on the city of Harlingen over four days, heavy thunderstorms belted the region again.
City officials estimate up to 12.5 inches of rain inundated parts of the city overnight, with meteorologists estimating the city’s northwest side was the heaviest hit, receiving between 10 and 13 inches of rain, followed by the downtown area which received 8 to 10 inches.
The southeast side of Harlingen is believed to have received 3 to 6 inches during the three- to four-hour time frame when the storm arrived in its full fury.
Elsewhere, Raymondville received 9.70 inches and Weslaco received 6.95 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
“This amount of rainfall is classified between a 100- and 500-year storm event,” Harlingen officials reported.
Region took hit
In the area, hardest-hit was western Willacy County, western Cameron County and the eastern part of Hidalgo County.
Unlike the four-day Great June Flood of last year, this time around there was little respite as the rains came lashing down without the three- to four-hour breaks that occurred then. City officials in Harlingen said the intermittent rainfall during last year’s storm allowed drainage and flood-control systems to do their jobs and prevented a more dangerous flooding event.
This time, our luck ran out.
The first indication most had of the severity of the storm coming from the north was around rush hour. At 5 p.m., the National Weather Service in Brownsville issued a tornado warning for Willacy County along with a severe thunderstorm warning. No tornado is believed to have actually touched down.
About two hours later, the thunderstorms and heavy rain moved south into western Cameron and eastern Hidalgo counties, and there the system sat and churned, with lightning, strong winds and heavy rain lashing streets and homes until around midnight. At that point, the heaviest rain was past, replaced by lighter yet persistent precipitation that continued for several hours.
As the Valley continues to dry out, the good news is no storm-related fatalities had been reported as of yesterday afternoon.
The hot and heavy weather of the past two weeks was a contributing factor to the power of the storm.
Brian Mejia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said yesterday the instability in the atmosphere occurring during days of heat alerts and warnings was a factor in the storm’s intensity.
“When there’s that much moisture and we have a trigger mechanism, its going to rain a lot,” he said.
The storm started its journey in the Kingsville area and worked its way south through Kenedy County and into Willacy County.
“It was a pretty strong, powerful what we call a high-precipitation super cell,” Mejia said. “Initially it got into Willacy County and it kind of slowed down as it was moving southward. And as it approached Raymondville and the surrounding cities, it dumped a lot of rain. It kind of just sat there. But not only did it just sit there, it kept building and caused the flooding events.
“Honestly, we weren’t expecting a foot-plus of rain in this area, so it did kind of catch us off-guard as well,” Mejia said.
Roadways were still awash with leftover rainwater yesterday morning, many strewn with stalled and abandoned vehicles which failed to navigate floodwaters which were between two and even three feet deep the night before.
At the height of the storm, dozens of roadways near Harlingen and to the west into Hidalgo County were closed due to flash flooding, including U.S. Business 83 west of Harlingen. At 8 a.m. yesterday morning, vehicles on the heavily used roadway were making U-turns in both directions to avoid a pool of deep water still standing at the intersection with Lewis Lane.
On the Lewis Lane exit from westbound I-2/U.S. 83 Expressway, neighbors in the area were pushing stalled vehicles out of the knee-deep water yesterday morning, as an 18-wheeler plowed deep furrows as it breasted the deep pool over the roadway.
In Raymondville, heavy flooding was seen downtown, and in La Feria, dozens of homes appeared to be flooded with water trapped on the north side of U.S. Business 83 directly under the city’s water tower.
In Palm Valley, deep floodwaters continued to pose dangers on Stuart Place Road yesterday. Even as late as mid-morning, between eight and 10 vehicles were parked haphazardly along the side of the highway where they had apparently been abandoned after failing to make it through high water the night before.
Shelter from the storm
City of Harlingen officials said more than a dozen families requested assistance as their homes flooded.
“In addition, 17 families asked for assistance to get out of their homes due to temporary flooding,” they reported. “At this time, people needing shelter are being sent to the La Feria Dome located at 1001 Pancho Maples Drive in coordination with the American Red Cross.”
The City of Harlingen began handing out sandbags to residents at 8 a.m. yesterday, amid forecasts of potentially more rain. The area remained under a flood watch.
The heavy rainfall also forced the closure of the Tony Butler Golf Course and all swimming pools including the Splash Pad. Numerous Parks and Recreation Department activities were canceled yesterday as well.
Arroyo way up
The City of Harlingen’s main flood mitigation channel is the Arroyo Colorado, which crested at 22.67 feet at 7 a.m. yesterday, said City Manager Dan Serna.
By 11 a.m., he said, the floodway rose to 22.48 feet.
“That’s a good sign because it’s starting to create capacity and water is draining,” Serna said.
During last year’s June storms, he said, the arroyo crested at 23.98 feet. In 2010, Hurricane Alex’s floodwaters led the arroyo to its historic crest of 24.22, Serna said.
By mid-afternoon the arroyo’s gauge had dropped to 22.0 feet as the Valley’s floodwaters began to ebb, said city spokesperson Irma Garza.
Nearly 17,000 Valley residents remained without power yesterday in the aftermath of the storm.
As of yesterday afternoon, AEP Texas reported 14,000 customers without service, while Magic Valley Electric Co-op in Mercedes reported 1,135 customers without power.
To check on AEP outages, or to report an outage, go online here: www.aeptexas.com/info/
For Magic Valley outages, go online here: https://magicvalley.coop/
AEP Texas spokesman Omar G. Lopez said at the peak of the storm, his company had 37,300 customers without service early yesterday morning. At 2 a.m. yesterday, Magic Valley had at least 6,200 customers without service.
“Flooding in some areas is so heavy that restoration work may be delayed until positioned crews are able to safely begin working,” Lopez said. “Crews from the Corpus Christi District and the Laredo District are currently traveling to the Rio Grande Valley to assist with restoration efforts.”
Lopez said it was too early to estimate when all customers would have power restored.
Top rainfall sites
Harlingen 4.7 (miles) WSW 11.60 inches
Harlingen 3.1 WSW 11.40 inches
Harlingen 4.4 W 11.12 inches
Harlingen 6.2 WSW 11.03 inches
Brownsville 3.5 N 4.52 inches
Los Fresnos 0.3 NE 3.12 inches
San Benito 7.8 E 2.38 inches
Weslaco Co-Op 6.95 inches
McAllen 3.5 N 3.20 inches
Raymondville Co-Op 9.70 inches
Source: National Weather Service/Brownsville
Harlingen street closures
• Tyler and Harrison (re-opened water receded by 7 a.m.)
• Bass Boulevard
• Palm Court to U.S. Business 83 (Re-opened at 8:30 a.m.)
• Dixieland to Expressway
• Loop 499
• Rangerville Road to Dixieland
• Wilson to Bass Boulevard
• Ed Carey to Business 77
• 6th Street to Monroe
• Austin to Business 77
• Commerce to Business 77
• Fair Park (Commerce west to Wichita)
• N. Commerce (Markowsky to Fair Park)
• W. Jackson (Commerce to I Street)
Source: City of Harlingen