Nicholas strengthens to hurricane ahead of Texas landfall
Houston — Nicholas strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Monday as it headed toward landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast and it was expected to bring heavy rain and floods to coastal areas from Mexico to storm-battered Louisiana.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds reached 75 mph (120 kph) a few hours before expected landfall.
Although the system was expected to generate only a fraction as much rain as Harvey, a hurricane warning was issued for Port O’Connor to Freeport, as well as a hurricane watch from Freeport to the western tip of Galveston Island. A tropical storm warning was issued for Port Aransas to Sabine Pass, as well as a storm surge warning for Port Aransas to Sabine Pass, including Galveston, Aransas, San Antonio and Matagorda bays. A storm surge watch is in effect from Sabine Pass to Rutherford Beach, Louisiana.
An automated station in Matagorda Bay registered a sustained wind of 76 mph (122 kph) with gusts to 95 mph (153 kph), the hurricane center reported.
In flood-prone Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive late Monday and early Tuesday could inundate streets and flood homes. Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
“This city is very resilient. We know what we need to do. We know about preparing,” said Turner, referencing four major flood events that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey, which flooded more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area.
Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asked residents to stay off the roads Monday evening to avoid risking their lives or the lives of first responders who might be called to rescue them from flooded roadways.
“What I need each resident to do is get where you need to be by 6 p.m. and stay there," said Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston.
The Houston school district, the state’s largest, announced that classes would be canceled Tuesday because of the incoming storm. The weather threat also closed multiple COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas, and forced the cancellation of a Harry Styles concert scheduled for Monday evening in Houston.
Late Monday night, shortly before landfall, Nicholas was centered roughly 45 miles (75 kilometers) southwest of Freeport. The National Hurricane Center said the storm was moving to the north-northeast at near 10 mph (17 kph) and was expected to continue on that path through the night, moving over extreme southeastern Texas on Tuesday. Forecasters said they expected the storm to turn more toward the northeast at a slower motion by late Tuesday and an even slower eastward track on Wednesday, when it was expected to drift over southwestern Louisiana.
Six to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches (46 centimeters) possible. Other parts of southeast Texas and south-central Louisiana and southern Mississippi could see 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) over the coming days.
“Listen to local weather alerts and heed local advisories about the right and safe thing to do, and you’ll make it through this storm just like you’ve had many other storms,” Abbott said during a news conference in Houston.
Nicholas was headed toward the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey. That storm made landfall, then stalled for four days, dropping more than 60 inches (152 cm) of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
After Harvey, voters approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood-control projects, including the widening of bayous. The 181 projects designed to mitigate damage from future storms are at different stages of completion.
University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said he expects Nicholas to be “magnitudes less than Harvey in every regard.”
The main worry with Nicholas will be its speed. Storms are moving slower in recent decades, and Nicholas could get stuck between two other weather systems, said hurricane researcher Jim Kossin of The Climate Service.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm's arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year's Hurricane Laura and historic flooding. The system was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago.
Across Louisiana, almost 120,000 customers remained without power Monday morning, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.
In Cameron Parish in coastal Louisiana, Scott Trahan was still finishing repairs on his home from Hurricane Laura, which put about 2 feet of water in his house. He hopes to be finished by Christmas. He said many in his area have moved instead of rebuilding.
“If you get your butt whipped about four times, you are not going to get back up again. You are going to go somewhere else,” Trahan said.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.
Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Seth Borenstein in Washington and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.