Three hailstorms in April caused more than $1.9 billion in damages on 136,000 vehicles and 125,000 homes in San Antonio, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. The costliest hailstorm in Texas history on April 12 pelted more than 110,000 vehicles and thousands of homes in north San Antonio.
Several insurance companies have said that they’ve handled more wind and hail claims in the last five months than all of last year’s claims combined. Local residents in the northwestern part of the city reported hail as large as 4.5 inches in diameter crashing into the roofs and windows of their homes and cars. If damage at schools, retail outlets, office buildings, and other facilities are included in the total, the impact jumps to $2 billion, the Insurance Council stated in a news release.
The severe hailstorms were accompanied by other extreme weather patterns that have hit San Antonio and surrounding counties over the past few months, including torrential rainfall and flooding, and there’s no immediate end in sight. Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in 31 Texas counties on Wednesday. Bexar County and the surrounding counties, however, are not included.
“Most of the damage (reported) was due to hail and that occurred a little bit earlier (in the year), but we’re still (receiving) weather alerts and apparently there’s more rain coming,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in an interview on Thursday. “You have to meet certain standards to be declared (in a state of disaster) in terms of damage, lost lives, etc., and as far as I know we have not reached that point.”
Frequent storms in the area have left more than a bruise. Many residents are on alert for flash floods and there have been several road closures and power outages across the city.
On Thursday there were 16 street closures and 239 CPS Energy customers without power due to downpours that will likely continue through the weekend, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Yura. There is a 40% chance of showers this evening and an 80% chance of thunderstorms Friday through Sunday, but only a 10% chance of rain early next week. The city will remain on flash flood watch until Friday morning, Yura said.
“We still have to get through several more days worth of thunderstorm chances,” he said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “We’re not done by far.”
So far this year, San Antonio has received a total of 22.82 inches of rain near the airport, Yura said. In the same area and during the same time period last year, the city got 23.28 inches. In May 2015, San Antonio saw a statewide record rainfall of 8.57 inches and this May’s rainfall totaled 9.14 inches – more than five inches above normal.
“I don’t think we’ve seen (this year’s) numbers yet for (comparing) the whole state of Texas, but with all the flooding going on (across) Texas, it’s been a really wet month of May,” he said.
So far, Wolff said, San Antonio has “come out pretty darn good” in terms of reacting swiftly to the dangers posed by the weather.
“I believe that the $500 million that we spend on flood control certainly has helped the city because there are no lost lives from flooding,” he said. “Our guys are out 24 hours a day, ready for any sort of incident that might occur, but it’s not over yet. We don’t know what we still might face in the next two or three days, but we’re ready.”
San Antonio and other areas in the Southwest are currently in El Niño, a climate cycle that causes increased rainfall across the southern tier of the U.S. and in Peru. Typically, the rain increases during the fall and winter, but that’s not necessarily the cause for the heavy precipitation that has recently drenched the city, Yura said, though it probably didn’t help.
“We really didn’t have a whole lot of rain in the winter time for us, so whether or not that got delayed into the spring, I’m not sure. There isn’t enough total data out there (to determine that),” he said. “We just know that sometimes we get put in these (weather) patterns that we’re in right now, and now we’ve had too much and we’re all probably thinking a dry spell would be kind of nice right now.”
Meteorologists can’t definitively point to climate change for the rains, either, Yura said.
“Not any one weather event can be attributed to any one thing like climate change,” he said. “Long term patterns that stretch over seasons or years can probably be attributed to climate change,” but not one flash flood in San Antonio.
The significant precipitation also has affected other city operations. San Antonio Water System (SAWS) reported cases of sanitary sewer overflows on May 15 and 17 caused by rainwater buildup on the 700-900 blocks of Holbrook Road and the area near Pinn Road and Leon Creek, respectively. The utility started cleanup efforts in the areas and reported no adverse effects to the nearby creeks.
Jo Ann Andera, Texas Folklife Festival director, said the rainwater from Wednesday night’s storm damaged seven of the 40 tents that were to be used for the festival at UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures June 10-12.
“A lot of them just collapsed from the weight of the water, it just came down so hard,” she said Thursday afternoon. “Everything that came down came back up and everything that was damaged was taken off the property.”
The festival grounds are saturated with water, she said, but are drying quickly and will be ready for the festival, which will take place rain or shine.
“We have absolutely no control over the weather so we just prepare to react and to regroup as soon as we can,” Andera said. “We’ve seen cool weather, we’ve seen rains, we’ve seen heat, so we’re pretty much prepared for just about anything.”
Other cities in East Texas like Dallas and Houston have been hit by substantial rain and flooding. Bandera County has taken the brunt of the recent storms, which filled the once barren Medina Lake over capacity for the first time since 2007. Medina Lake’s water levels have risen by about 10 feet since May 29, Yura said.
Business owners along the lake, like owner of Wallys Watersports Mike Crandall, see the rainfall as a godsend. Since 2007, “there was no business along the lake” since only 3.8% of it was filled with water.
“When it was 3.8% full (there was) no traffic, no nothing, pretty much. (Business) just shut down,” Crandall said. “But it’s finally back to what I call normal. Of course there’s no normal if you’re going to put an average on the last five years, but business is back.”
The showers have filled Lake Travis in Austin, too, a sight many speculated may never be seen again.
The National Weather Service is anticipating more rainfall in the days ahead, but dryer weather by mid-next week. Meteorologists are, as usual, preparing for any other weather surprises.
“When the storm systems are very weak the (storm) models don’t handle them very well,” which makes it difficult to accurately track their probabilities, Yura said. “Especially this time of year, we’re losing a lot of the big storm systems since everything is shifting into the northern part of the U.S., so it’s hard to latch onto storm systems and it becomes tougher and tougher to forecast rain.”
Longtime San Antonio residents know that extreme weather just comes with the territory, Yura added.
“We’re always going to have extreme weather here,” he said. “We’ve had it 100 years ago, we’ve had it 500 years ago, so we’re always going to have droughts and wet periods.”
Abbott has authorized the use of all available and necessary resources of state government and political subdivisions for Austin, Bandera, Bastrop, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Coleman, Colorado, Erath, Fayette, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Jasper, Kleberg, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Lubbock, Montgomery, Palo Pinto, Parker, Polk, Robertson, San Jacinto, Tyler, Walker, Waller, Washington and Wharton counties. Most have experienced widespread flooding that has led to road closures, power outages, emergency evacuations and even fatalities in some counties.
This post was originally published on June 2, 2016.
Top image: A storm cell hovers over Dignowity Hill on March 18, 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.