DALLAS — A churning tropical storm has caused little damage so far in Texas, but authorities warned Wednesday that as Tropical Depression Bill moves northeast, already swollen rivers could overflow their banks and cause more problems for water-weary residents.
Sustained maximum winds from the former tropical storm dropped to 35 mph by Wednesday morning, but isolated areas near the Texas coast southwest of Houston saw more than 11 inches of rainfall. Many roads across a broad stretch of East Texas were closed because of high water, and hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed.
Waco Regional Airport recorded 3.55 inches of rain Tuesday night into Wednesday, the bulk of it coming early Wednesday morning as the center of Bill’s circulation passed straight over Waco. Further bands of showers tailing from Bill on Wednesday evening, south and east of the airport, brought storm totals in those areas of 5 inches to 7 inches.
The main remnants of the storm were headed into Oklahoma on Wednesday night, but the effect will linger, meteorologist Ted Ryan of the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office said.
“We’ve still got this tropical air mass left over,” Ryan said, an environment ripe for scattered showers fueled by afternoon heat to pop up. Only some places will see rain Thursday, he said, but the ones that do could see a lot of it.
The NWS forecast for Thursday called for a 60 percent chance of that happening in Waco.
“Even though the state is facing challenges, it looks like we have been able to avoid the worst,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday.
He and other state officials said the challenge during the next 48 hours will be the abundant rainfall, particularly in North Texas.
About 3 to 5 inches of rain fell on areas of Central Texas still cleaning up and recovering from Memorial Day weekend floods that left 14 dead and two missing along the Blanco River alone in Blanco and Hays counties.
Emergency management officials warily monitored Texas rivers that were forecast to rise through the weekend.
Kent Prochazka, a meteorologist for NWS near Houston, said the threat of the storm had diminished somewhat, describing Bill as “well-behaved,” but warned that rising rivers remained a concern.
“We probably are not going to see any magnitude where it’s going to be critical, life-threatening or ‘Take your babies and run,’ ” Prochazka said.
The focus has “shifted toward the rivers” and how they’re able to absorb runoff in the coming days, he said.
The Brazos River southwest of Houston was about 32 feet high Wednesday but was predicted to exceed its flood stage and swell to 50 feet by Sunday. A portion of the Red River, which divides Texas from Oklahoma, ran more than 25 feet high Wednesday, but was forecast to grow to about 37 feet, well above its flood stage.
“We have not seen the last of the rainfall yet, not by a long shot,” cautioned Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, explaining that a band of the tropical depression continues to trail behind the storm system and deliver lingering rain.
The flooding and damage caused by Tropical Storm Allison in Houston and other parts of Texas in 2001 largely came after that storm had passed through the region, he said.
Memorial Day weekend storms had brought widespread flooding to Oklahoma and Texas, killing more than 30 people overall. At one point in May, 11 inches of rain fell in some parts of the Houston area, resulting in flooding that damaged thousands of homes and other structures and forced motorists to abandon at least 2,500 vehicles across the city.
Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA has paid nearly $38 million this year in Texas flood insurance claims, with the vast majority associated with last month’s deluge.