The calm before (and during) the storm

Yes, rain is coming this weekend, but don't be fooled into panicking

The National Weather service is on top of the forecast. National Weather Service/Houston Twitter account

By now you have likely heard about the tropical “thing” that will be affecting our weather this weekend. If not, welcome back out of your bomb shelter. Also apparently we are pals with North Korea now so you may need to look into re-purposing said shelter. Anyway, the impetus for my writing this unfortunately has to do with the irresponsible manner in which many were informed about this tropical blob.

Late last week I was somewhat shocked and very much disheartened to see how a few local TV meteorologists (who shall remain nameless) introduced this tropical feature into their forecasts for this upcoming weekend. These meteorologists posted images of one computer model run (of which there are four runs per day) showing a hurricane barreling into Galveston Bay this weekend, and one was even bold enough to include a graphic in his forecast that said in big letters “FATHERS DAY HURRICANE????”  I cringed watching this because I knew people’s reaction would be panic.

What makes those actions even worse and indefensible in my opinion is that the computer model they sent out into the public domain is well known among meteorologists to have a bias towards spinning up false alarm tropical storms and hurricanes in longer range forecasts, only to back off of those storms as the forecast date approaches. It is a problem what has been well documented in the meteorological community this year, and yet some of the local meteorologists thought it was prudent to put that out to an audience they know has high storm anxiety.  Weather computer models are a bit like a good kitchen knife; if used properly they can be a great tool, but if used recklessly they can be incredibly dangerous.

So with that said, I wanted to take a couple of minutes and realistically explain what the weather situation is this weekend because I know the mention of tropical weather and even just rain sends the city’s collective anxiety levels skyrocketing these days.

What:

A tropical wave (a disorganized blob of rain and thunderstorms) is moving through the southwest Caribbean and will cross into the Gulf of Mexico early this weekend.  Any time there is this kind of disturbance over water in the summer it gets watched for tropical development. However, despite the hype you may have heard about this system it does not look like conditions in the Gulf will be overly favorable for it to develop a defined circulation to become a named tropical system.  The National Hurricane Center presently gives it a 20% chance to develop. That’s a pretty low chance, but even if it did technically become a tropical depression or tropical storm that characterization would be of little consequence for its impacts. Regardless of whether it spins and has a name or if it just remains an amorphous blob of rich tropical moisture its effect on our weather will be the same… it’s going to rain.

When:

Right now it looks waves of rain and thunderstorms could begin by Sunday and last through Monday night or into Tuesday. It could certainly rain on Saturday too but the heavy stuff looks to come in beginning on Sunday.

Where:

It is likely everyone in the Houston metro area gets rain, but it remains to be seen how far inland heavy rain can make it.  The further north and west you go the lower the heavy rain chances become. For the most part though rain should be fairly widespread, however it is almost impossible to know which exact areas will see the heaviest rain this far out, which leads me to my next point

How much:

This is the question on everyone’s mind.  Currently the official forecast is for most of the area to see on average between 2 and 5 inches between Sunday and Tuesday, however some spots could see higher amounts.  With this type of tropical airmass localized spots of 9-10 inches wouldn’t be unfathomable. Yet as I mentioned above pinpointing those spots is nearly impossible. The computer models have been spraying those higher bull’s eyes all over the place for the past day or two and will likely continue to do so until the event is actually here.  

There is good news though.  Over the past few months the area has begun a descent into 690 below normal rainfall.  That means the ground is dry and can absorb a good deal of water before flooding issues start. Two to five inches of rain and maybe even a little more over the course of two or three days will be tolerable and probably more beneficial than problematic.  If you happen to be in a spot that gets those higher totals or in a spot where those multiple inches fall in a short period of time then there may be some street flooding in spots. However, despite what some local media may be insinuating this does not look to be a widespread or damaging flood event.

I know any kind of rain still makes many many people around here nervous and probably will for some time.  I get it, my house flooded in Harvey too. However tropical rains like this and tropical storms/hurricanes are a fact of life in this part of the world. Harvey wasn’t our last hurricane, but not every hurricane or tropical storm will be a Harvey.  The best thing you can do for your safety, and frankly your sanity is to be prepared during hurricane season and find a trusted source for weather information such as the National Weather Service (weather.gov or on twitter @nwshouston) or the national hurricane center (www.nhc.noaa.gov).


 

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