Texas storms leave 800K without power, flights grounded

HOUSTON — A line of dangerous storms and flooding rains rolled over the US Gulf Coast, killing at least four people and leaving more than 800,000 customers in Texas — about 6% of the total — without power while grounding hundreds of flights.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire called on businesses in the energy hub to tell non-essential workers to stay home as recovery work continues. Schools were closed. More than a third of Harris County — the worst-hit area — was still without power early today, according to utility data.

Along the Gulf Coast, more than 980,000 customers were without power as far east as Alabama, according to PowerOutage.us. Texas, with more than 800,000, was the hardest hit.

Wind gusts of 78 miles per hour were clocked as the storms ripped through the Houston metro area Thursday, said Peter Mullinax, a forecaster with the US Weather Prediction Center. New Orleans reported a gust of 84 mph.

Flooding rains fell north of Houston with a wide area getting from 3 to 4 inches and some isolated areas getting much more.

“The Houston story was wind, the really heavy flash flooding was focused north of Houston,” Mullinax said.

Across the US Thursday, 708 flights were canceled with more than 530 of them in Texas, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking company. There were reports of ships being buffeted in the Houston Ship Channel by the winds, Mullinax said.

Social media posts showed violent squalls and blown-out windows on skyscrapers in downtown Houston. The storm hit just as the grid again warned of the risk of electricity shortfalls as seasonal repair works cut the availability of power plants and hot weather lifts demand.

A line of storms developed in west Texas Thursday and a clash of dry air with heavy, moist air from the Gulf gave the system a boost, Mullinax said. This combined with an active sub-tropical jet stream to provide the mix to unleash the terrible windstorms.

Flood watches and advisories were in place from eastern Texas to western Florida and Alabama early Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Waters near Houston, which is prone to surges, rose earlier this month, closing roads, affecting energy supplies and sending residents fleeing.

Houston is under a flood warning through Tuesday. Only three tornado reports came into officials, but that number may rise as the damage is assessed. Rain will continue around Houston and across the Gulf on Friday, as temperatures soar leaving those without power struggling to keep themselves cool.

“It’s another busy day on the Gulf Coast,” Mullinax said.