TS Allison flooding showed hurricanes not only severe weather threat

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As we prepare for the start of hurricane season, it’s important to note what we’ve learned from past storms.

For example, Tropical Storm Allison was all about flooding. It was the most devastating tropical storm in U.S. history. It demonstrated that a storm does not need to be a hurricane to cause billions of dollars in damage.

“When you categorize hurricanes, it’s based on wind, not rain,” says Mike Talbott, director of the Harris County Flood Control District. “So category has nothing to do with how much rain we’re going to get out of it, like Tropical Storm Allison.”

It was early in June 2001 during a five-day period when Allison dropped over three feet of rain on parts of Houston and southeast Texas.

In Harris County alone, almost 73,000 homes were flooded, 95 cars were damaged and 22 people died. Allison’s rain placed an enormous amount of water on the ground with nowhere for people to go.

“I hate to oversimplify my job, but there really are only two things you can do with water – you can move it or you can store it. And then you have flood insurance for the times you can’t do enough of those things,” says Talbott. “The Flood Control District has been able to invest with its partners about 1.2 billion in flood damage reduction projects. And a lot of what we do is move dirt. We’ve moved about 34 million cubic yards of material. If you want to get a perspective for that , if you put that in one by one cubic foot box, put the boxes end to end, they would go around the world 7 times.”

All that moving of dirt has created some great open spaces, which we can all take advantage of.

“We’re designing for 13 inches of rain in 24 hours,” adds Talbott. “That’s the type of capacity we’re trying to build into the systems.”

Along with all the drainage improvements, the flood control district received funding to update the 20-year-old flood plain maps.

This $32 million dollar effort to re-survey all the channels now gives us a much better idea where to expect flooding in the future.

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