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.”

























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:

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

Delay in Satellites Could Jeopardize Severe Weather Forecasts

7 02 2012

The following article was published on January 16, 2012 by Emergency Management.  The author was Elaine Pittman.  Given the variety of weather related issues that confront our region, I found this article to be very interesting.  Accurate weather forecasts trigger many activities designed to protect the citizens of our community and less than accurate weather data could prove to be very tragic at some point in the future.

2016 is looming as the year during which a gap in weather satellites could leave the nation without some of the severe storm data that’s vital to early warnings. After 2011’s record-breaking severe weather — with 12 disasters that cost more than $1 billion — it seems counterintuitive that budget reductions may create a period of 12 to 18 months during which severe warnings days in advance of a storm likely won’t be available, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predictions.

Vital to weather forecasting, two polar-orbiting satellites collect data above the Earth’s poles 14 times per day and feed data into a computer model. According to NOAA, the satellites’ orbits “provide two complete views of weather around the world,” which allow meteorologists to “develop models to predict the weather out to five to 10 days.” In addition, polar-orbiting weather satellites provide about 90 percent of the data used in National Weather Service forecast models.

The two satellites provide continuity of information, with one providing data during the mid-morning orbit and the other in the early afternoon. The first is run by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, which partners with NOAA and benefits from the information collected in the afternoon orbit. The second satellite is owned by the United States — and is where the information gap issue lies.

Because of a funding reduction, Ajay Mehta, deputy director for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), said the launch of the new satellite, called JPSS-1, was delayed. JPSS-1 will replace a NASA satellite that was launched on Oct. 28, 2011. NASA’s satellite — called the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP for short — will provide operational data for four or five years.

“That is an important thing for our continuity because [it’s] the last of the old generation of satellites we had launched in 2009,” Mehta said. “That one is only going to last for another couple of years.”

While NASA’s satellite is providing continuity of information, its life cycle is expected to end in 2016, and Mehta estimated that JPSS-1 won’t be fully operational until 2017. The time between NPP and JPSS-1 is when the information gap is expected.

“For the polar orbit, we have had operational satellites since 1979, so this mission is critical to provide continuity of NOAA operational data sets,” said Mitch Goldberg, JPSS program scientist. “NOAA has products and services, such as weather forecasting, and they depend on this constant flow of data from satellites going to weather prediction models.”

Funding Issues Abound

Last year was rife with concerns over how much funding NOAA’s satellite program would receive and what that would mean for the future of severe weather forecasting in the United States. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco had many poignant sound bites in 2011, including that budget cuts to the satellite would be a “disaster in the making;” that in a few years, the agency may not be able to do the severe storm warnings that people have come to expect; and that it could cost three to five times more to rebuild the project than to keep funds flowing toward it.

President Barack Obama requested a little more than $1 billion for 2011 and beyond for the polar-orbiting satellite program. On Nov. 18, 2011, legislation was enacted that gave JPSS $924 million for 2012. “While we’re happy with the level of funding in this fiscal environment, it was still almost $150 [million] less than the president’s request — therefore it will not eliminate the possibility of a gap,” Mehta said via email.

Accuracy Is Key

When thinking about impacts that the information gap could have on emergency management, a question arises: What would be different?

To help assess how beneficial the information from polar-orbiting satellites is to weather forecasting, the National Weather Service reran forecasts for Snowmageddon, the blizzard that hit the East Coast in February 2010, without the satellites’ data. “When they took the data out, they ended up mis-forecasting it by almost 50 percent,” Mehta said. With the polar-orbiting data, a 20-inch snowfall was predicted, and without it the forecast was 10 inches of snow. In reality during the week of storms, 28.6 inches of snow fell in Washington, D.C. — the most since 1922, according to NOAA.

“You can imagine the difference for decision-makers,” said Goldberg. “If someone tells you there is going to be a seven-inch snowstorm or two-foot snowstorm, you’re going to make different decisions based on those two scenarios.”

The last year also has seen an increase in severe weather. From the tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri to Hurricane Irene impacting the East Coast, tremendous amounts of devastation have occurred across the U.S., the forecasts for which have been “very good,” Goldberg said. Without data from the polar-orbiting satellites, however, he said there would be a major degradation of weather forecast performance.

Another issue is this information can’t be obtained from other sources. Although the United States partners with Europe’s satellite program, data from both orbits is needed, said Mehta. He added that NOAA is exploring all options and has looked into privately owned satellites — but that would not help prevent the predicted information gap.

“Our estimates show that for somebody to build a new instrument and launch it, it’s going to take much longer,” he said, “because we’ve already started building the instruments and spacecraft for JPSS-1.”

 And the lack of additional information sources also applies to state and local emergency management agencies. Larry Gispert, past president of the International Association of Emergency Managers and former emergency management director of Hillsborough County, Fla., said everyone — the private and public sectors — relies on NOAA and the National Weather Service for severe weather information. He said some companies will process that data and put their own spin on it — “but they all get that data from the federal government.”

Impacts on Emergency Management

What it comes down to is that emergency managers need severe weather data — and it must be as accurate as possible and provide enough time for preparing and evacuating people if needed. The island of Key West, Fla., is the year-round home to about 25,000 people, but sees more than 1 million visitors annually. Craig Marston, Key West’s division chief of emergency management and training, said evacuation procedures begin 96 to 72 hours before a storm is predicted to make landfall and having good, up-to-date information is key.

“We’re pretty far out there, so what really concerns us is that NOAA is able to maintain its air flights,” he said.

Marston works closely with the National Hurricane Center and the local Weather Forecast Office to know what the weather is doing and what to expect. In the event that severe weather data isn’t available for more than three days in advance, Key West’s ability to evacuate health-care patients and other populations could be jeopardized — 72 hours is the minimum amount of time needed to fly patients from the area. “We rely heavily on the Weather Service for its information,” Marston said.

Hillsborough County’s Gispert said the large numbers of people who live in coastal areas make storm information necessary to help with evacuations. “Emergency management people have a tough enough job without getting accurate data and some kind of advanced warning of potential threats,” he said.

Like most issues, it all comes down to money, and Gispert said public safety is one of government’s ultimate responsibilities. “If my congressman would ask me, and I often tell them, if it was a choice between funding one more bomb to Afghanistan or putting up a weather satellite, guess which one I am going to vote for.” 

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.”

Do you need a good example of why Mitigation projects save lives and money?

15 05 2011

Okay, so a couple of days ago, I lamented the prospect of deep cuts in FEMA budget, especially in the area of grants to state and local governments.  I made a point of why it might be a bit foolish to eliminate grants for mitigation projects which have proven time and time again to be a cost effective method for saving lives, reducing property damage, and lessening post-disaster recovery costs.

So, keep that in mind as you read about former Mayor Kotaku Wamura of Fudai in Japan.  The Associated Press article by Tomoka A Hosaka, published May 13, 2011, can be found below.  You really have to appreciate the vision former Mayor Wamura and his dedicated efforts to get the wall built before it caused additional deaths in his community.  Wamura served ten term mayor of Fudai.  As the article clearly notes to the reader:  “Without the 51-foot costly floodgate, Fudai would have disappeared.”

How One Japanese Village Defied The Tsunami

In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.  Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.  His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.  The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said. Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago. In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.  Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.  But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”  He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.  The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.  Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.  The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.  The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.  Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”  The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.  One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.  At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”