by Juan A. Lozano
HOUSTON (AP) – Nichols strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane on Monday as it headed for landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast and was expected to bring heavy rain and flooding in coastal areas from Mexico to hurricane-hit Louisiana.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said peak sustained winds reached 75 mph (120 kph). It was traveling to the north-northeast at 10 mph (17 kph) on a forecast track to pass near Matagorda Bay in the upper Texas Gulf Coast on Monday, then again on Tuesday evening. Southeast Texas moved coast to coast.
Nichols was centered about 45 miles (75 kilometers) southwest of Freeport, Texas, as of late Monday.
This is a breaking news update. Below is an earlier story from AP.
Tropical Storm Nichols gathered strength Monday and threatened to blow ashore in Texas as a hurricane that could bring up to 20 inches of rain to parts of the Gulf Coast, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Louisiana is included.
Although the system was expected to generate only a fraction of the amount of rain as Harvey, nearly all of the state’s beaches were under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Greg Abbott of Texas Gov. said officials have deployed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system’s top sustained winds were 70 mph (110 kph), near hurricane strength and an increase of 10 mph (16 kph) from earlier in the day. If the winds hit 74 mph (119 kph), the storm will become a Category 1 hurricane. It was moving to the north-northeast at 12 mph (19 kph) and was predicted to make landfall late Monday along the central Texas coast.
An automated station in Matagorda Bay recorded sustained winds of 55 mph (89 kph) with gusts of 71 mph (115 kph), the Hurricane Center reported.
In flood-prone Houston, officials worry that heavy rains are expected late Monday and early Tuesday, flooding streets and flooding homes. Mayor Sylvester Turner said officials deployed high water rescue vehicles throughout the city and put up barricades in more than 40 places that lead to flooding.
“This city is very resilient. We know what to do. We know about the preparedness,” Turner said, referring to four major flooding events in the Houston area in recent years, including the devastating damage from Harvey, which flooded more than 150,000 homes in the Houston area.
Turner and Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo asked residents to stay off the streets on Monday evening to avoid endangering their lives or the lives of first responders who may be called in to protect from flooded roadways.
“I require every resident to be there by 6 p.m. and be there,” said Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston.
The state’s largest Houston school district announced that classes would be canceled Tuesday because of the oncoming storm. The threat of weather also forced the closure of several COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas, and the cancellation of a Harry Styles concert on Monday evening in Houston.
On Monday evening, Nicolas was centered about 35 miles (60 kilometers) south-southwest of Matagorda, Texas, and a Hurricane Watch was issued for San Luis Pass from Port Aransas.
Six to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain were expected along the central and upper Texas coast, with a possible maximum of 18 inches (46 cm). Heights of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) may be seen in southeast Texas and other parts of south-central Louisiana and southern Mississippi in the coming days.
Abbott said during a news conference in Houston, “Listen to local weather alerts and heed local advice about doing what’s right and safe, and you’ll make it through this storm just like you’ve done many other hurricanes.” “
Nichols was on his way to the same area of Texas that Harvey had hit. That storm made landfall, then stalled for four days, bringing more than 60 inches (152 centimeters) of rain to parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was to blame for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
After Harvey, voters approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood control projects, including the widening of the bay. 181 projects designed to reduce the damage caused by future storms are in various stages of completion.
Hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy of the University of Miami said he expects Nichols to be “a magnitude less than Harvey in every respect.”
The main concern with Nichols would be its speed. Hurricanes have been moving slowly in recent decades, and Nichols may be stuck between two other weather systems, said climate service hurricane researcher Jim Kosin.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Sunday night, a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding before the storm struck. The system was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall to the west where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago.
In Louisiana, about 120,000 customers were without power on Monday morning, according to utility tracking site poweroutage.us.
In Cameron Parish in coastal Louisiana, Scott Trahan was still repairing his home from Hurricane Laura, which poured nearly 2 feet of water into his home. He hopes to be finished by Christmas. He said many in his area have moved instead of rebuilt.
“If you hit your butt about four times, you’re not going to get up again. You’re going to go somewhere else,” Trahan said.
Hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms as of September 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.
Associated Press writers Jill Bled in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70