Brace Yourself for Fall and Winter Rainfall

19 10 2015

In its Fall 2015 Newsletter, the Brazos River Authority published an article indicating that those of us who reside in the Brazos River watershed, and that includes Fort Bend County, should be aware that we could experience more rainfall than normal this year.  The article is below:

A record-setting El Niño has the potential to deluge Texas with wet weather during the late fall and winter months, which could top off Brazos basin reservoir levels that have been dropping due to returning drought conditions. But the same weather phenomenon could also bring too much of a good thing, with potential flood conditions also a possibility in upcoming months.

The National Weather Service Fort Worth Office’s Climate Prediction Center projects that the El Niño conditions will continue into the spring.

What is El Niño? It is a weather pattern which begins in the Pacific Ocean and results in changing wind patterns and water temperatures. These weather patterns don’t just stay in that area, but move to other places, and affect the weather in the United States.

Climate experts say the current El Niño pattern is one of the largest ever observed, and El Niño is expected to get stronger in the coming months.

What will the impact be for the Brazos Basin?

The Pacific Jet Stream is expected to bring wetter conditions than usual to North and Central Texas, along with cooler winter temperatures. Interestingly, the NWS reports that outbreaks of extreme cold weather are actually less likely during strong El Niño winters, with fewer days of freezing temperatures. So while the weather may be cooler, extremes are less likely.

It is the increased cloud cover and precipitation that should result in lower than usual daytime high temperatures.

Texas experienced a wetter than usual spring this year, but the heat and dry weather of July and August allowed the drought conditions to return to the Brazos basin and other parts of the state.

If El Niño brings significant rainfall, as expected, it will end the ongoing “flash drought.” A flash drought is one that develops quickly but does not last long. Also, because the wetter weather is expected through much of the 2016 spring, that could prevent or delay drought conditions from returning later next year.

Flooding is always a concern, and can occur even during periods of drought, the NWS reports. During a prolonged wet period, however, the likelihood of flooding greatly increases because of saturated soil.

This past spring, the rainfall filled depleted reservoirs. This fall and winter, with most reservoirs remaining close to full, “the runoff from heavy multiple rain events would likely surge lake levels back into their flood pools,” the NWS warns.

Since data has been collected on El Niño patterns, there are El Niño events that can be classified as strong, and only two of these (1991-92 and 1997-98) were extraordinarily wet. However, those two seasons did not have much freezing precipitation. Two years that did have more freezing precipitation than normal were the 1965-66 and 1972-73 seasons, which interestingly, did not have higher precipitation levels overall.

State climatologist’s forecast

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said that we can’t predict with certainly what this El Niño season will bring, but we can be pretty sure of some wet weather.

“Most El Niño events produce above normal rain across Texas, especially from late fall to early spring,” he said. “But the two strongest El Niño events in history were associated with near-normal to slightly below-normal rainfall in Texas. It may be that there’s a sweet spot for El Niño and Texas rainfall, and the strongest El Niño events overshoot the mark. The fourth-strongest El Niño (since 1895) was the 1991-1992 El Niño that helped produce extensive flooding along the Brazos River in December 1991. About the only thing that seems possible to rule out at this stage is the possibility of being substantially drier than normal over the next nine months,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Because Texas is near the southern edge of the jet stream on average, storminess increases during El Niño and decreases during La Niña. In general, the chances of wet weather in the winter increase across the southern United States and decrease a bit in the northern United States. Temperatures in the southern United States tend to be a bit cooler than normal during El Niño, and warmer than normal in the northern United States.”

How certain is the impact of an El Niño pattern?

“In some places the effect is more reliable than others,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “In Texas the effect is especially reliable, but even so, it only accounts for about a third of the year-to-year weather variations we experience. Since 1950, Texas as a whole has never had a November through March significantly drier than normal during an El Niño.

“An El Niño winter is typically cold, wet, and cloudy. The best overall adjective would be ‘yucky.’ But think of all the food that’s going to be grown next spring that will have a good solid start thanks to the wet weather over the winter.”

Brazos basin status and forecast

Despite a hot and dry summer that lingered into early fall, the unusually rainy spring resulted in full reservoirs in the Brazos basin. While reservoir levels have declined some as a result of the recent hot, dry conditions, they are still “in pretty good shape,” said Brad Brunett, water services manager for the BRA.

“Reservoirs typically lag behind the onset and ending of drought conditions,” he said. “Following a wet period when lakes fill up, it may take several months of dry weather before the effects are seen in lake levels starting back down. Toward the end of a drought when rainfall starts increasing, it takes a while before enough runoff is generated to start positively impacting lake levels. Because of the rain earlier this year, we’re in good shape heading into fall, and that should be the case heading into next summer, too.”

If El Niño brings heavy rains, what will that mean for the basin?

“If we experience higher than normal rainfalls, there’s a good chance we’ll have to pass more flood water through BRA reservoirs, and the (US Army Corps of Engineers) reservoirs may be up in the flood pools again,” Brunett said.

“The good news is that we should be in great shape as far as water supply heading into the summer months.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





The Value of Travelers’ Information Radio Stations

9 01 2013

Travelers’ Information Stations are operated by governmental entities for the purpose of broadcasting information by low-wattage AM radio to the traveling public.  Fort Bend County operates 1670 AM, and other jurisdictions in Fort Bend County also operate such stations (Missouri City, Stafford, Sugar Land); sometimes referred to simply as “TIS.”  Agencies operating a TIS must be licensed, operate in the AM Broadcast Band; are limited to a 10 watt transmitter output tower; and may not transmit commercial information.

Fort Bend County belongs to the American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO).  AAIRO is comprised of 346 members, consisting of government agencies and associated individuals in the public safety community in the United States.  For several years, AAIRO has advocated for changes in the regulations governing TIS;  the organization is requesting specific changes to FCC regulations so that such stations are authorized to broadcast critical weather and safety information to the traveling public in advance of, during, and following disasters and emergencies.  By doing so, TIS can assist in mitigating the loss of life and property.

It is hoped that the FCC will take into account the experiences of coastal communities in New Jersey that experienced severe weather during the landfall of Hurricane Sandy last year.  As you will see below, these AM radio stations became the primary source of information for citizens during and after the storm due to the failures of other means of communication.  As reported in The Source newsletter, October 2012, here is the story of what occurred in Manasquan, New Jersey:

Withstanding Sandy

Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore south of this New Jersey coastal community on October 29. Ninety MPH winds pushed a wall of water into flood-prone Manasquan, causing massive flooding. Emergency Manager Chris Tucker tapped his Information Radio Station on AM 1620 to be the solitary source to keep residents apprised, with the anticipation that “data and internet connections might be compromised.” They were. Additionally, his station’s antenna system encountered enormous winds and was engulfed by 3 feet of storm surge. It kept working. The station’s battery backup – occasionally charged via generator – powered the station continuously through the storm.

Manasquan operates an Alert AM Information Radio Station with a hurricane wind rated antenna system, designed to withstand gusts of up to 150mph. Several flashing alert signs are positioned on local roads to alert motorists.
Manasquan001
Eighty miles downshore near Sandy’s landfall, Police Chief Robert Matteucci of North Wildwood, NJ, utilized his 1640 signal to protect life and property. The signal remained on the air throughout the storm. The broadcast
, which was simulcast to the Internet, advised residents how to find assistance and provided emergency numbers for electric and gas companies. The internet stream was monitored by more than 1000 people in nine states, some as far away as California. Internet listeners to North Wildwood’s stream logged more than 14,400 minutes the day Sandy made landfall.
Manasquan002
Manasquan’s and North Wildwood’s Information Radio Stations comprise but 2 of more than 40 stations installed in NJ in the past 10 years to protect citizens’ lives/property in a disaster.

At North Plainfield, NJ, operator Rich Phoenix comments, “Only radio stations and battery or crank-powered receivers will survive [during a disaster]. Local information is king; and the TIS stations are top of the heap.”

AAIRO’s Petition Docket 09-19 for rulemaking as been under consideration by the FCC for a very long time with no action being taken by the FCC.  Many communities across the nation, including many along the coast in New Jersey, have written letters to the FCC supporting the AAIRO position.  Now is the time, that the FCC revise TIS content rules to specifically state that weather forecasts (e.g. NOAA radio rebroadcasts), warnings, and emergency preparedness information can be broadcast at any time— before, during, and after a disaster—as a means of mitigating loss of life and damage to property.





Are Drones a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

12 12 2012

The following article was first published in Governing magazine, and then later in Emergency Management magazine.  Written by Eli Richman, and published by Emergency Management on November 30, 2012, the article provides an overview of the use of drones by emergency responders in the United States.  It is becoming apparent that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, can assist law enforcement agencies in a variety of activities.  As pointed out in the article, perhaps it could be helpful in finding a lost hiker in a national forest.  Closer to home, perhaps a drone could have been used a few years ago when local responders attempted to find a missing kayaker lost on a stream in Fort Bend County?

Drone owned by Montgomery County TexasFire first responders could use such a tool also; perhaps for getting a birds-eye view of a hazardous materials incident or major fire.  Think about how valuable the use of such equipment might be as hundreds of responders attempt to fight a raging wildfire in close proximity to a subdivision.  Emergency managers could use an unmanned aerial vehicle for conducting damage assessments after a hurricane.  It would seem to be an efficient way of getting needed information without putting responder lives at risk.  As a matter of fact, it has recently become known that NASA is readying a couple of experimental UAVs to track future storms.  Why?  To assist communities in preparing for the storms.  

For more information on NASA’s use of drones:   http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/10/hurricane-hunters/

But, the use of drones is not without controversy.  Many individuals have privacy concerns, thinking that use of such equipment is confirmation that “Big Brother” lives and is trying to gain personal information from innocent citizens.  In addition, some politicians have indicated that the purchase of drones with homeland security monies is a suspect expenditure.  Hopefully, any legislation related to government’s use of drone technology will incorporate logical regulations that will still allow first responders to use UAVs for saving lives, arresting criminals, and assisting responders to extinguish fires.

No jurisdiction within Fort Bend County owns a drone.  As you will note in Mr. Richman’s article, Montgomery County does have a drone in their equipment inventory.  What does Fort Bend County do when we need to get a birds-eye view?  Probably, the first request would be to the Houston Police Department; we would request for assistance from one of Houston’s police helicopters.  Another possibility, would be utilizing the Civil Air Patrol (CAP); today, Texas has 3500 volunteer members who are active in Civil Air Patrol.  CAP is an outstanding resource for conducting inland search and rescue missions.  And, of course, contacting Montgomery County, and requesting mutual aid assistance would be another option.  Over the last several years, counties in the Houston area collaborate closely in matters of emergency response.

So, to give you an overview of this topic, please read the attached article.  It provides a balanced viewpoint on the issue of using drones.  If you have any thoughts on the subject, please feel free to make a comment on the blog site.

 

Drones:  The Future of Law Enforcement?

Eli Richman

Law enforcement officials say that’s not their intention, and they couldn’t use drones that way even if they wanted to. “We did not obtain this for the purpose of surveillance,” says McDaniel. “Our ShadowHawk’s maximum aloft time is only two hours and 20 minutes, and you would never fly it for that length of time to begin with.” FAA regulations prohibit drones from flying higher than 400 feet, and they require that drones remain in line of sight of the user. In other words, says McDaniel, if a drone’s around, you’ll know it. “It’s not like its 30,000 feet up in the air and you can’t see it and you can’t hear it. It’s going to be visible to the naked eye, and you’re certainly going to hear it.”

Current drone technology may not lend itself to stealth surveillance, but that’s why privacy legislation should be passed now, before it becomes a problem, say advocates. “While drones are new and novel and everybody’s worried about the privacy issue,” says Stanley, “we need to put in place some farseeing rules and protections that will cover every possible evolution of this technology.”

So far, no state has passed legislation regulating drones, although New Jersey took a preliminary step in June by introducing a bill that outlined warrant procedures for law enforcement’s use of drones. In August, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft. The guidelines call for transparency in how the vehicles are used, and say that any images captured by aerial drones and retained by police should be open to the public. In cases where drones might collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing, or if they will intrude on reasonable expectations of privacy, guidelines suggest police should obtain a prior search warrant. Those instructions aren’t binding, but they’re a good start, privacy advocates say.

At the federal level, the ACLU has recommended that government use of drones be banned except in very specific cases. One piece of legislation has been introduced in Congress by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which would ban domestic governmental drone use except in patrolling the border or in high-risk security situations. The bill currently lacks bipartisan support. While the ACLU says the bill isn’t perfect, its legislative counsel Chris Calabrese says the bill is “starting in the right place, and we’re going to work with him as he moves forward.”

In addition to questions about privacy, another concern is drones’ security. First, there’s the immediate worry that comes from allowing individually operated aircraft in domestic airspace, particularly in a post-9/11 world. That concern was borne out last year, when a man in Massachusetts was thwarted after attempting to equip several drones with C4 explosives and fly them into the Capitol and Pentagon. Second, civilian drones can be hacked, or “spoofed,” by a counterfeit GPS signal. (Unlike military GPS signals, civilian signals are not encrypted.) The spoofed drone thinks it’s in a different place, allowing the hacker to take rudimentary control of it. In a demonstration in June, the University of Texas’ Humphreys led a team of researchers who successfully hacked into one drone’s navigation system.

Regulating this type of vehicle typically would fall under the purview of Homeland Security, but that department has so far declined to regulate the UAV industry. That’s a major problem, says Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management. “I find this to be a bit of a ‘nobody’s minding the store’ type scenario,” McCaul says. “No federal agency’s willing to step up to the plate, and when you have the [Government Accountability Office] saying the DHS needs to do it, I tend to agree with them.” Without regulation at the federal level, security oversight could fall to individual states.

For his part, Humphreys says he’s not overly worried about drone security. Spoofing a UAV requires a high level of expertise and very expensive software. But as with the privacy issues, it’s an issue that almost certainly will be exacerbated as technology advances. “What my nightmare scenario would be,” he says, “is looking forward three or four years, where we have now adopted the UAVs into the national airspace without addressing this problem. Now the problem is scaling up, so that we have more heavy UAVs, more capable UAVs and yet this particular vulnerability isn’t addressed.”

There’s no question that unmanned aerial vehicles could forever change crime fighting, disaster response and a host of other functions. Given the push from the federal government, it seems inevitable that drones will increasingly be a part of police assets around the country. But it’s important to address concerns over privacy and security now, says Humphreys. “Let’s let it go ahead,” he says. “But let’s be vigilant.”





Fort Bend County “Grand Canyon” repaired in only two months

25 07 2012

On May 12th, portions of Fort Bend County experienced rainfall that caused tremendous flooding especially in subdivisions just north of Rosenberg and Richmond.  This particular area of the County received rainfall that totaled  up to 12 inches. Much street flooding occurred, but in addition, a gorge opened up in one area that caused much concern to nearby homeowners. The tremendous erosion was caused by a broken drainage pipe that caused tremendous water flow that quickly eroded land that was once open field – see photo to left.  Interim work by the Fort Bend County Drainage District stabilized the situation.

But now there is better news, as reported today by Erin Mulvaney of the Houston Chronicle.  Her article is below:

The gorge that grew so big that locals dubbed it “Fort Bend County Grand Canyon” has been repaired, two months after a 30-foot deep, 80-foot wide hole formed in Richmond.

On May 12, crews began working on filling and stabilizing the giant gorge that began eroding after a large storm broke a drainage pipe. The problem began after a storm dumped 8 to 10 inches of rain over the area. The earth that sometimes carried runoff to the Brazos River began giving way with huge sections of land crumbling into the rushing water, officials said.

Jeff Janacek, an assistant engineer with the Fort Bend County drainage district, said the structure has been replaced and it is now back open. He said the downpour that Harris County suffered a few weeks ago did not hit the county as hard, which was lucky as they finished their work.

“It’s pretty much all repaired,” Janeck said. “It looks quite a bit different now.”

He said the work was mostly completed by mid-July. The pit was reinforced with a concrete barrier to stop further erosion and crews worked to fill the gorge, a job that took two months.

Residents in nearby houses had noticed the pit grow and grow, but there had been no damage to their houses.  Janet Pickett lives a few blocks from the ditch and watched with other neighbors as the land caved.

“Every 30 seconds, a big chunk of land, like the size of a van, just started falling in,” Pickett said.





Mega Rain Targets Fort Bend County

13 05 2012

Weather Blog entry from Mario Gomez, Meteorologist with KHOU, Channel 2 Houston is below.  This item was posted on May 12, 2012 at 11:15 PM.

We knew that heavy rain fell overnight in Fort Bend county. What we didn’t know is this could turn out to be the heaviest rain ever recorded this year by a volunteer weather observer. The National Weather Service conducts hundreds of training sessions for community volunteers to help fill the gaps where weather data is missing, especially in rural areas of the nation. The network of volunteers is called CoCoRaHS which stands for community collaborative rain, hail and snow network.

Early Saturday morning one of these community observers near Richmond recorded over 11″ of rain in his rain gauge making this the heaviest rainfall total ever recorded this year in the United States. The rain slacked off to about 6″ at Hobby, which is still a respectable 24hr rainfall total. The good news is that Sunday will be completely dry and even less humid with a mild 60 degree start and with highs reaching the 80s just in time for a Mother’s Day back yard BBQs. 

Weather Blog: Mega Rain Targets Fort Bend County





New Laws Could Sink Fort Bend Levees

26 09 2011

Published by Katy Times on Monday, September 26, 2011, the following article was written by James Hale, Times Staff Writer.

“Katy business and community leaders were called upon to contact their national representatives regarding the current legislation on the National Flood Insurance Program, which threatens to negate millions of dollars of development of levee systems in Fort Bend County alone.

Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert addressed the Katy Area Economic Development Council’s general assembly to discuss House and Senate bills which would reauthorize and amend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which would use actuarial rates to determine flood insurance premiums.

The House bill, passed in July, would implement the new rates over a six-year period and maintains the status quo with respect to flood control systems.

“House Resolution 1309 maintains the status quo for levee systems and land served by other flood control facilities,” Hebert said. “That’s extremely important to Fort Bend County, and it should also be important to any other county that has a creek, a river, a drainage district or is otherwise flat land.”

While both bills would implement actuarial rates on insurance policies, Hebert is particularly concerned with a provision in the Senate’s bill, known as the Johnson-Shelby NFIP Bill, that would classify land protected by levees as “areas of residual risk.”

“It means that areas located behind levees, dams, and other flood control structures – regardless of their certification or accreditation status – are areas of residual risk,” Hebert said. “Under section 107, (areas of residual risk) would be subject to mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements, and federal floodplain management regulations.”

Fort Bend County has over $10 billion in structures behind levees, and Hebert made the case that Fort Bend has already spent a significant sum of county funds – $45 million – to certify all drainage and levee systems on the 100-year floodplain.

“There’s a vast difference in the quality of design, construction, maintenance of flood control structures through out this nation,” Hebert said. “You can’t lump flood control devices into one category for the determination of risk.”

Hebert stressed that Fort Bend taxpayers have paid for the construction and maintenance of their levee system without any federal help, and have even contributed to the latest Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) project to map the flood plain.

The county gave $1.2 million, compared to $.8 million in federal money, to fund the use of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to generate a highly accurate flood map for the county when FEMA announced the project to map the area.

Due to a looming deadline, Hebert believes a continuing resolution funding the NFIP after Sept. 30 is a likely outcome in the immediate future.

Right now Hebert has had an amendment drafted and sent to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that would protect the investment his county, and many others, have made in flood control systems by classifying land protected by levees as above the floodplain.

In the meantime, Hebert is urging others to join the effort to stop the Senate bill, or at least amend section 107, which is seen as the most onerous part and grants FEMA power to enforce mandatory purchase requirements and federal floodplain management regulations.”





Free Online Symposium – Community Recovery from Disaster

16 03 2011

Given the recent catastrophe in Japan, this is a most timely event.  Lots of quality speakers including Chuck Wemple from the Houston-Galveston Area Council who will be presenting an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.  Information about this free event is below.

The Public Entity Risk Institute will present its first 2011 online symposium, Community Recovery from Disaster, March 21-25, 2011. The symposium will bring to practitioners and public officials practical information about the latest research and lessons learned about the economic, social, physical, institutional and interdisciplinary dimensions of disaster recovery. These dimensions were explored in depth by top researchers in the field at the recent Theory of Recovery Workshop sponsored by PERI and funded by the National Science Foundation. This online symposium will investigate how these dimensions of disaster recovery could affect your community, and offer lessons that will help you prepare.

Each day of the symposium, registered participants will be able to log in and read the papers and post comments on the material presented and pose questions to the authors or other participants. Provided as a public service, PERI Virtual Symposium Programs are free and open to anyone with Internet access (registration required). Each morning, participants who enroll in the Symposium will be emailed a link to the papers being presented that day.

This symposium program will be moderated by Dr. Laurie A. Johnson. Laurie Johnson is Principal of Laurie Johnson Consulting and a senior science advisor to Lexington and Chartis Insurance companies. She has over 20 years of professional experience in urban planning, risk management, and disaster recovery management, and has studied most of the world’s recent, major urban disasters, including the Chile (2010), Sichuan China (2008), Kobe Japan (1995) and Northridge (1994) earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the 2004 Florida storms, and the World Trade Center disaster. In 2006, she was a lead author of the recovery plan for the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and coauthored the book, Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, published in April 2010.

The following experts have been invited to contribute Issues and Ideas Papers:

  **Charles Eadie, Principal Associate, Hamilton Swift & Associates, will present a paper on the physical dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Dr. Rick Sylves, professor and senior research scientist at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management, Department of Engineering Management, University of Delaware, will present a paper on the institutional dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Chuck Wemple, Economic Development Program Manager of the Houston-Galveston Area Council and manager of the Gulf Coast Economic Development District, will present an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.
  **Dr. Rob Olshansky, professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will co-author the symposium introduction and synthesis paper with the moderator.
  **Dr. Liesel A. Ritchie, assistant director for research at the Natural Hazards Center, will present on the social dimension of disaster recovery.

Sign-up today for the free symposium!