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Memorial Day and Texas floods

May 27, 2013

The Memorial Day flood of 1981, my sister and I were bringing our stepmother’s mother from Taylor to Austin. I drove over a rise on IH35 coming into the city, to see the road disappearing into a new and rising lake, parked cars already submerged in it. Fortunately, the median wasn’t too muddy, and we made our way on higher roads.

This Saturday, driving north from Corpus Christi, traffic near George West stopped when a thunderstorm let loose with rain in sheets so closely packed that the road in front disappeared. When the storm passed, traffic remained stopped. After a bit, I walked over the rise ahead, fearing there had been an accident. Instead, what greeted me was floodwater crossing the highway. I tried to ford it on foot, to see whether it was really so deep or fast as to prevent passage, and turned back when it almost was to my knee and running fast enough I didn’t feel comfortable going further. With traffic backing up for miles, there was little choice but to wait for the waters to subside. The rain came in short bursts, and Carolyn stayed in the car. I walked up and down the highway, picked roadside flowers, now on our kitchen windowsill, and chatted with the other stuck travelers. After a bit more than an hour, the low spot could be crossed. The squalls caused worse flooding in San Antonio, a thing we didn’t notice on the highways we took through the city. The photo below shows IH37, facing north, where we were stuck. From the debris strewn in the foreground, you can see how much the water already had subsided.

The worrisome thing is that IH37 is the major hurricane evacuation route from the coastal bend. And hurricanes often are preceded by heavy rain. What was an inconvenience on a Memorial Day weekend would have had significantly greater consequence had a quarter the population of Corpus Christi been trying to get out by that route!

Update: Rick Dailey of TxDOT has since contacted me about this flood. He says it is the first time this section of IH37 has flooded, that the area received 10″ of rain in one hour, and that they view that as a 500-year event.


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