A series of stalled thunderstorms finally hit Central Texas on Tuesday, largely missing Austin but flooding other communities from Killeen to San Marcos.
The flooding and wind in San Marcos were enough to carry away dumpsters, submerge pickups, knock out power lines, close roads, knock a train off its tracks and cause Texas State University to cancel afternoon classes as students waded to their cars. No one was seriously injured in San Marcos, but Killeen emergency officials were still searching Tuesday afternoon for the driver of a vehicle that was swept into a flooded creek.
The National Weather Service expects isolated showers until Saturday but nothing like the severe weather that hit Tuesday. The weather service has also issued a flood warning for the Blanco River, which was expected Tuesday evening to top its flood stage at various points, including Wimberley.
Forecasters had expected Tuesday’s storms to arrive Monday evening, warning that the storms could bring as much as 7 inches of rain to isolated pockets. But the cold front that was expected to trigger the storms surprised the area’s forecasters by stalling north of Austin on Monday night. That meant there was nothing Monday night to lift the moisture, which had flowed from the Gulf of Mexico, into the unstable air that had rolled in from the west.
Until the front arrived Tuesday, that is.
On Tuesday, Killeen endured more than 8 inches of rainfall and the accompanying flooding. According to Fort Hood officials, more than 70 emergency personnel and aircraft, including two Apache attack helicopters, continued to search Tuesday afternoon for a person who was believed to have been swept into a creek just before 6 a.m.
Fort Hood officials said three other people escaped from vehicles caught in high water Monday night on the Army post.
Austin, meanwhile, experienced only light rainfall Monday night. Aside from a few isolated showers, such as one that hit Oak Hill in the morning, Austin itself saw less than an inch of rainfall. But for much of the late morning and early afternoon, all of the counties surrounding Travis were under flood advisories. It was as if Austin were the hole in a soggy doughnut.
The late-morning deluge dropped nearly 2 inches on Dripping Springs, along with hail. One rain gauge in San Marcos recorded nearly 7 inches from late morning to early afternoon. The Comal River rose more than a foot. Many Texas State students complained over social media about morning classes continuing despite the incoming storms.
“Come to Texas State, we’re the only Texas university to have a live flowing river right through our campus,” one student posted on Twitter, along with video of floodwater coursing by her classroom.
Student Bailey Jones said via Twitter: “I bet Texas State parking services are still out there in this flood giving parking tickets;” and another student, Josh Howlett, wrote rhetorically: “Should we cancel classes/hold on let me check,” attaching a screen shot of the question “can bobcats swim?”
By late Tuesday afternoon, Hays County officials were urging people to stay inside even as the last of the storms was on its way east. About a half-dozen low water crossings were flooded with between 0.2 to 4.25 feet of water above the road as of about 2 p.m., according to the HaysInformed.com real-time map. About a half-dozen others were being repaired. The “turn around, don’t drown” public safety mantra pinged around social media.
“It’s definitely been busy,” said Laurie Taylor, the Hays County Office of Emergency Management office administrator.
The blown forecast, which surprised nearly every forecaster in the region, drew some sheepish mea culpas.
“Sorry for the horrible forecast for the (I-35) corridor over the last 24 hours, but remember that weather forecasting is an imperfect science,” University of Texas meteorologist Troy Kimmel said in a message to those following his email updates. “This is especially true, in my opinion, given what I see as over reliance on computer models. Remember, day in and day out, all weather forecasts still enjoy a pretty high accuracy rate. But this will not be the case every time.”
Tuesday rainfall totals
Rainfall in inches, from midnight to 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority:
3.36: 9 miles northeast of Johnson City, Blanco County
2.23: Cypress Creek near Cypress Mill, Blanco County
1.95: Driftwood, Hays County
1.8: Lake Bastrop, Bastrop County
1.74: Dripping Springs, Hays County
1.62: Cedar Creek, Bastrop County
1.31: Pflugerville, Travis County