The Valley’s climate has often been jokingly referenced as consisting of two seasons: Hot and Hades. While average temperatures in the region are among the highest in the Lower 48, there is much more to the region’s climate than heat.
The Valley’s proximity to the Tropics – just 160 miles south – leaves it prone to nature’s “heat engines,” hurricanes. That same proximity to the gateway of prodigious atmospheric moisture is conducive to torrential rains, regardless of whether a hurricane is present. The geography of the Valley includes numerous low-lying locations, impermeable soil susceptible to run-off, and a gradual west to east drop in elevation – each condition conducive to freshwater flooding. Rapid urban development in recent decades has exacerbated the natural geographic conditions to increase flood vulnerability for many.
Preparing for hurricanes and flooding rain requires a respect for the unique climate and geography of the Valley, and developing a plan to respond.
A common definition of risk is application of the threat of an event to the vulnerability of assets that may be impacted. Before creating a hurricane or rainfall flooding response plan, Valley residents, families and businesses must assess their risk. For the vast majority of Valley residents and businesses, the hurricane risk assessment will cover both flooding rainfall and wind.
Everyone in the Valley is at risk from flooding rainfall, as the “Great June Flood of 2018” showed. To prepare for potential flooding, residents and business owners must take stock of their risk and take protective actions to mitigate against it. At a minimum, a flood insurance policy, backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, should be purchased. Protective measures, such as flood proofing, can reduce or eliminate the impact of flooding.
Risk from wind damage is directly proportional to the quality of building construction and of surrounding built structures, as well as natural around it. The vast majority of Valley construction is wood frame and plywood (or similar). Bracing can be added to roofs, garages, doors and other features to reduce risk. Everyone should provide coverings to windows and some doors, and mobile/manufactures home or business owners should ensure all foundation anchoring is tight and secure.
Sea water that builds up inside and around the periphery of a hurricane will often flood beaches and other coastal communities. In the case of a potential destructive wind or flooding surge over or near South Padre Island, mandatory evacuations will be ordered.
In addition, Colonias and other known locations prone to flooding rainfall or damaging winds may be ordered to evacuate. Most likely, the decision to stay or go will fall on the individual family or business based on their risk assessment.
Ample efforts are made throughout the year to prepare the Valley for the arrival of hurricanes, floods, and other natural hazards. Less effort is devoted to what happens next. Aftermath risk can be reduced by having appropriate supplies and equipment on hand that can get a home or business back up and operating soon after the storm departs. Supplies include enough food and water for a week or more, hand tools and cleaning materials for quick repairs, and generator(s) and fuel to provide power and light to hasten recovery.
Developing a Response and Recovery Plan
Now that risk has been determined, it’s time to create a plan. A comprehensive plan should include one for sheltering-in-place, and one for evacuation. Whether sheltering-in-place or evacuating, Valley residents and businesses must take stock of inventory.
The easiest way to inventory physical contents is to make a descriptive video of all valuables, then save it to the electronic “cloud” for post-event retrieval. Financial and medical records should also be saved electronically; original paperwork should be stored in a fireproof safe or a safe-deposit box.
If considering evacuation, the most important part of the plan is knowing where to go and how long you can stay. It is crucial to make this plan during fair weather.
Next, an organized “go” kit should be ready at all times. This kit will include a “base” of lightweight clothing, simple supplies, and small heirlooms for a family to “grab and go” for the trip to the evacuation destination.
Finally, a list of critical life items – prescription drugs, insurance policies, mortgage forms, property deeds, etc. should be created during fair weather. When the decision is made to leave, retrieve the items from the list and place in the “go” kit.
Follow the Forecast; Follow Local Decision Makers
The local Weather Enterprise will make every effort to provide hurricane and flood forecast information on all media platforms. As June 2018 showed the Valley so vividly, it doesn’t take a named storm to cause a local flood disaster. By applying pre-assessed risk to the specific threat level and potential impact described by the Weather Enterprise, you can make the right decision to protect your most valuable assets – people and property. The end result just might be priceless.