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Friday, September 23, 2005

Just Rita, during Rita

Friday Sep 23 @ 4:05pm: My previous post, about Rita and gridlock, has gotten overlong, so I'm starting this one to record anything semi-profound or -amusing that occurs to me during Rita itself. Maybe nothing will; don't assume if I'm silent that it's because I've lost power. It's conceivable that if I do lose power (which I think more probable than not), I may still be able to update the blog a bit, at least as long as my laptop batteries and a dial-up phone connection last.

Right now, there's naught more troubling than a brisk wind and some cloudy skies outside, and I only heard the first rumblings of distant thunder a few minutes ago. My neighborhood has been very quiet all day; I don't know how many have evac'd or whether they're (like me) just sitting tight indoors.

Friday Sep 23 @ 6:00pm: Not much change outside yet as compared to 4pm. Just spent a few minutes chatting with Hugh Hewitt again on his radio show, and made a point to say some positive things about some of the remarkable, brave, and generous episodes among my fellow citizens that I've heard or read about. It is possible to spot the silver lining even before the storm cloud passes over, if you look for it.

Local TV news weathermen are reporting that the storm track is now tending even further to the east, suggesting landfall further from Galveston, closer to and possibly even on the other side of the TX-LA border. I'm not wishing ill on the folks in Lake Charles and its environs, and I hope they've been making appropriate preparations as well. But landfall further east in turn suggests considerably less danger to the Houston area from winds, although coastal areas will still be at risk for storm surge and everyone's at risk to varying degrees from flooding. One good thing is that the last several weeks have been comparatively dry here, meaning there may be less runoff than there would be otherwise.

Gosh, won't we be lucky if it turns out that looking back someday, the gridlock will be most Houstonians' worst memory of Rita?

Only in the midst of excitement like this would I fail to roast NRO editor Rich Lowry for an eyebrow-raiser like this one today: "I didn't realize Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. Yes, I need to get off the East Coast more." There's got to be a great zinger waiting to be flung back at him for that, but I'm too distracted to think of it today.

Friday Sep 23 @ 6:30pm: Winds are now more than brisk — definitely gusty. Still no rain in my neighborhood, though.

Friday Sep 23 @ 7:30pm: First light rain, winds actually calmer now.

Friday Sep 23 @ 8:45pm: Gusty winds. Sprinkling. Lucky so far.

Friday Sep 23 @ 10:15pm: Riveting journalism, this isn't. Still gusty winds — looks to me like a solid layer of high-level clouds, below which scattered lower-level clouds are racing, well defined by the city's lights. The amount of precipitation is what my baseball coaches used to call "just the birds spittin'" (when they wanted to keep playing, anyway). If it were 100 years ago, before modern weather forecasting and satellites and news broadcasts, I think I'd have had the sense from watching this that there is something big out there somewhere, but that we're still on the margins of it. I wouldn't have mistaken it for an ordinary night, but given how long the wind's been gusting and the clouds racing without much otherwise, at least here, to show for that, I think I'd be wondering whether — and hoping that — we'd dodged a bullet.

If this becomes the most boring post I ever write, that'll be okay.

Friday Sep 23 @ 11:55pm: Continuous low overcast now, and still gusty, but still no rain to speak of. I might actually try to sleep tonight, we'll see.

Saturday Sep 24 @ 1:15am: Sprinkling, continuous strong wind (although nothing to write home about). But I'm still not sleepy.

Satellite Map: 2:50am Central time

Saturday Sep 24 @ 2:15am: A bit more rain, and continuing stiff wind. But so far the rain has been light and slow enough to soak in, with almost no run-off. I've lost a few small branches (not limbs) off a few of my trees, and I'm sure there are some limbs down elsewhere in the city with these winds. But so far, so good. A semi-empirical indicator: my satellite TV reception is still strong.

Saturday Sep 24 @ 3:45am: A photo just taken from inside my garage with the garage door up and the camera on a mini-tripod sitting on the trunk lid of my car:

Beldar's Driveway

The office tower in the background is at the intersection of U.S. 59-South and Fondren, a few blocks away, which will give you some idea of how light the rain is and how good, considering, overall visibility is. It's still windy, but not too bad; it's still sprinkling, occasionally turning to light rain for a few minutes. But there's essentially no standing water, nor run-off in the street gutters. (The pavement on the far side of the street isn't under water; it's just damp, but the slight angle sloping away from the center crown makes it look slightly darker.) There's not much lightning, and no thunder to speak of. No sirens; not much noise except the wind in the trees. Obviously we still have power, phone, etc. in my neighborhood.

Saturday Sep 24 @ 12:05pm: Statistics and generalizations are meaningless when your viewpoint is from a particular place, time, and situation. Thus, if you had a relative on the nursing home evac bus that caught on fire, then this was a catastrophic hurricane. If a tree crashed into your living room and your roof blew off, then this was a devastating hurricane. If your power is out and you had some windows broken by flying debris, or if you had a nasty gridlock experience in evacuating, then this was a very annoying hurricane.

But at this point, it appears that the net physical effect of the hurricane on my house is a couple of dozen very small branches scattered around my front and back yard. I never lost power, phone, DSL, or satellite TV reception. My dog never got her feet wet. My ex and our kids are similarly unaffected. So we've been very, very fortunate. And my sense is that our experience has been very common, probably even typical, for Houstonians.

Unfortunately that probably can't be said by folks from Jefferson County and far-western Louisiana. But even with respect to them, it would seem that things could have been far, far worse overall.

Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels are on TV now urging those who evacuated not to return "unless it's in accordance with the instructions of local officials" so that "emergency supply providers" and others involved in urgent rescue, restoratoin, and reconstruction activities can get back and get their jobs done. They're asking employers not to require non-critical employees to return to work on Monday or Tuesday. Law enforcement is being watchful and there will be no tolerance for looting. No school at least on Monday, maybe longer. [Update: HISD and most nearby school districts have confirmed they'll be closed at least through Tuesday.] No guarantee of gas for those returning yet. Bottom line: Sit tight, count your blessings.
 

Posted by Beldar at 04:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Dwilkers made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 6:14:09 PM | Permalink

We just got our first real rain here in League City over the last few minutes. We've got some fairly stiff wind, but not substantial enough to be consistently audible inside the house.

The local TV media are crawfishing big time now, in case you aren't watching.

(2) Dwilkers made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 7:49:18 PM | Permalink

We got our first wind driven rain up against the windows at 7pm, and rain has started to fall pretty steadily now. Winds are quite gusty but I'd say they aren't much over 40mph peak. No thunder or lightning, nothing really violent at all as yet.

(3) Lgl made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 9:19:29 PM | Permalink

In your earlier post, you said, "There's essentially nothing on the local media to remind folks that, for example, Houston isn't dependent on vulnerable levies, below sea level, and in between a huge lake and the Mississippi."

What about Houston's gigantic levees, enclosing the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, both Corps of Engineers projects? As one who lives about 150 yards from Buffalo Bayou, which is where both normally drain, I am more than a little anxious about levee failure. I wonder if anyone's ever done a worst case scenario on this, with 15+ inch rains upstream of the dams. I seem to remember that Alvin (about 30 miles south of Houston) had a 30+ inch rain within the last 20 years, so it's not unheard of. Seems like Allison generated 25+ inches in places.

Our neighborhood's worst flood was March 7, 1992. It filled up the streets and was only about 18 inches below my slab's level. Most of that rain fell below the dam, as I recall. There's been a lot more development, hence more runoff, upstream of Addicks and Barker since 1992.

My neighborhood in West Houston has also been very quiet, and I have been surprised that most of my neighbors are hunkered down like me. I tried to get out yesterday morning, but couldn't make it any farther west than Katy. My extreme impatience with traffic hassles overcame my fear of flooding, and would not permit me to wait more than about 20 minutes in completely stalled traffic before I turned around and went back home. Spent the rest of Thursday and Friday boarding up windows. I knew that useless lumber cluttering up my garage for years would come in handy!

Power's still on, although we had a flicker a few minutes ago.

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 10:27:58 PM | Permalink

Check here for thoughts on the evacuation from an Austin emergency services guy:
http://alexandertheaverage.blogspot.com/

(5) Wallace-Midland, Texas made the following comment | Sep 23, 2005 11:33:41 PM | Permalink

If you get lonely down in nearly abandoned Houston...you can go over to see my brother from Midland. He's riding it out in the West University area.

(6) Keaukina made the following comment | Sep 24, 2005 1:21:05 AM | Permalink

Your first post at 4:05 mentioned "amusing", and I was amused today, about the same time (although I didn't have time to think about it then). My 83-year-old father and my half-sister evacuated from Clear Lake on Wednesday and they are staying with me and my husband. My Dad needs nursing care, so I called a home health agency (national, with many franchises) yesterday morning to see if we could get some help for him. Today we had a delightful and skilled person sent to us by this agency. Guess what: She had worked for this same agency in Houston area, but had evacuated to Austin on the day before my Dad and half-sister did! Not only that, but she is from the SAME community as my Dad, and knows his doctor, etc. We are very blessed to have her, because she is great, and she is happy to have work-- and she's working with someone she "might" have worked with, but didn't, in her hometown.

(7) abelard made the following comment | Sep 24, 2005 3:03:39 AM | Permalink

We're getting 30 mph winds here in the memorial villages at 3 am saturday. continuous rain, not heavy, tho. gusts as high as 5 to 60 mph. Time Warner cable out. lights have gone out three times, for 1 to 2 minutes.

(8) Ron C made the following comment | Sep 24, 2005 6:36:03 AM | Permalink

The sun will be up soon - and then pictures of everything the 'breathless' media can find will soon be flogged for days on end... Somehow, I wish they would all lose power for a week.

(9) Dwilkers made the following comment | Sep 24, 2005 7:43:31 PM | Permalink

We lost power about 2am, and it just came back up.

Other than that this was pretty much of a dud. We had winds that peaked around 50mph I'd guess, and almost no rain at all which is weird.

That's in League City, right down 518 from Kemah, about 5 miles from Galveston Bay.

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