Unprecedented Storms Batter County

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY –  Houston County farmers, ranchers and gardeners are careful to complain about rain; they well remember the drought-like conditions of the past several summers. We are susceptible to the remnants of hurricanes coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and as we all found out a few years ago, terrible tornadoes can also strike with vengeance. 

The recent several weeks have brought a constant line of rainstorms – normal for this time of year – but with severe straight-line winds which have left many without power, closed roads and left county officials chasing damage from one storm, only to be faced by another. 

After a mid-morning storm Tuesday, May 28 which darkened the sky and saw winds tear through neighborhoods and along county roads, the cleanup from the previous storm was halted, only to survey a new round of damage. 

Some residents in Houston County spent most of the week with no electricity, in spite of heroic efforts to get the lights back on. With more rain and wind at the end of the week, the problems only intensified, with chances of thunderstorms daily into the early part of next week. 

You could hear the emotion in an online post by Houston County Electric Co-Op, posting late Thursday, May 30, “We were down to the last 24 consumers this evening when another wave of thunderstorms came through with high winds, heavy rain and lightning. There are reports of numerous trees down. Some roads are inaccessible. We already have new reports of broken poles. We peaked at 6,643 outages. Crews had not returned to the office and have started restoration efforts again. I have no words to adequately express the frustration and fatigue.  This last month has been unprecedented.”

The crews, along with first responders, county and city officials have been playing a game of triage and catch-up: trying to do the most good where they can, while not spending time putting smaller patches on areas which will not endure the next storm. 

Straight-line winds come from the same energy which produces tornadoes, except these winds do not rotate when they crash down from the storm clouds. As most in Houston County can see, these winds can be just as damaging, tearing limbs from trees and causing havoc. Hail accompanied some of the storms this week and while there were no concrete reports of hail damage, the effect of having a storm hit every few days, knocking out power and trees, has caused widespread damage in many parts of the county. 

A transformer along East Goliad in Crockett was reported to have blown during the morning hours of Friday, May 31. The pole was already broken and dangling a day before, another victim of the seemingly endless line of small but dangerous weather. 

Recent heat and especially humidity caused some of these storms to “bow,” resembling a backwards letter “C,” meaning the leading edge of the storm is intensifying, bringing the stronger winds. The humid air caused the rain to increase and the heat caused some storms to reach as high as 60,000 feet – about twice the altitude of a passenger jet. 

High winds in the storm’s path only fed the thunderstorms, causing the straight-line winds to return with more intensity than normal. This is in part due to geography, and part due to the effect of El Niño, which began in December, according to Messenger Weather Guru Dan McElhany. 

McElhany explained the county has already received 40 inches so far this year, when the average for an entire year is 44 – with 15 of those inches falling in May, alone. He said this year’s storm season has been the most active by far in the U.S., at least in the last 13 years. 

The wetness is set to end soon, leaving La Niña to rule the summer, with its hotter temperatures and drought-like conditions. 

Will the storms in the forecast for the next few days bring more of the same? Only time will tell. For those still asking relatives to use their showers or sit in their AC as they try and save all those goodies in the freezer – the end of these storms can’t come soon enough. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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