Tropical Storm Allison

My life has been blessed with many different events; some rewarding, some terrifying, many dangerous, many stimulating, but none remain with me like Allison, the tropical storm that flooded and devastated not only Texas and Louisiana, but also the Southeast and Eastern United States. This is my longest story and the drama and full extent of the damage could only be captured with a long post. Breaking it up into 2 would only dilute the impact!

In late May of 1998 tropical storm Allison began as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, moved west and crossed upper, South America into the Pacific, then moved over Mexico back into the Gulf of Mexico and wandered north, made landfall between Freeport and Galveston Island. The storm had 2 eyes, with both passing over my home in Bayou Vista. It hit Houston and moved not over 100 miles north and because of high pressure to its north, stalled, then moved south back into the Gulf Of Mexico, pounding the entire Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard and finally sputtering out in Massachusetts where it produced a tornado and flooding. It was the costliest tropical storm in history and the only one that has had its name retired! Houston experienced over 7 inches of rain in an hour and over 28 inches in 12 hours and that is where my Allison story begins.

Allison’s rain was pounding us and around 2:00 PM, my partner, Bob Baugh, said he thought I should head on down to Bayou Vista and make sure my house was OK. My experiences on Interstate 45 between Houston and Galveston, told me that it would be a long, difficult and possibly dangerous drive down there.

Layla was working part-time, in far north Houston, for a national softball organization and I headed out, called her and said that she should start home right away. We had just sold our home in Cypress, Texas and were living full time in Bayou Vista. The next day we were planning on driving to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where Layla was running a senior softball tournament and I was playing in it.

Starting out around 3:00 PM, traffic was building. Our local media was wearing their rain suits inside of their studios and telling us to brace for a tropical storm with 50 mile per hour winds. Overkill, I thought. Traffic on I-45 was awful, not thinning out until past the NASA exit and when the traffic thinned, here came the rain. It poured buckets on us, slowing speeds to around 40. It poured for the next 10 miles and when I reached the Dickinson exit, the rain stopped and the skies lightened up. I looked to my right, west, and saw, not 5 miles away, a funnel cloud hanging down nearly to the ground. It was heading north, so no immediate danger to me.

Turning up the radio, I heard that the eye of Allison had just passed over Galveston Island. Wow, I thought, I must be in the eye right now. That makes 3 for me! The next 10 miles down to Bayou Vista were fairly nice, light rain and not much wind. I pulled into my driveway and my neighbor, Jack Bustos, was standing in his driveway and said to me, “Hey, the eye just passed over here! Come on in for a drink.” “OK,” accepting the offer. We were chatting about what a strange storm this was when it started raining again and I cut our visit short and ran home. Then it really started to rain!

During my travel south, Layla was trying to get down to Bayou Vista also, but was hung up in the traffic and rain. Freeways were being closed and she made it no farther than West Belt and Westheimer, where, because of the rain and flooding, she decided to get a room in a motel and meet up with me in the morning. My company’s offices were right across the street from her motel, but Bob and the staff had already gone home, so she was too late for them to help her. She called me and we decided she would be safe to stay where she was.

It rained and rained and rained, with a constant wind of 35 to 45, a steady hard wind, and the water in the canal was rising, not from the heavy rain but from the expected 5, foot tidal surge that Allison packed. Raising my 22, foot boat as high as I could in the boat shed, it should have plenty of clearance between the hull and the water.

The water had risen 3 feet and was already over the bulkheads, washing into my yard, so I went into the garage and made sure everything was up off of the concrete, floor. If we actually had a 5, foot surge, water would be in the garage. My property was 9 feet above sea level and the street was 11, which meant we could still get out if need be.

It was raining hard, wind blowing and then it stopped. I went out onto my deck just as Jack, my neighbor came out and yelled over to me, “Looks like another eye, that’s real strange. How about another drink?” “No thanks,” I replied, thinking that when the storm on the backside of the eye picked back up, I could be stranded next door. This made the fourth storm-eye I had been in, enough for anyone I thought!

The night passed with more rain and wind and the tidal surge didn’t make it into the garage, just up to the patio. Not much storm when I awoke and called Layla and said for her to be ready over at my office and I would pick her up in 2 hours. She told me what to pack for her for our trip to Arkansas and I was on my way.

Houston was flooded, but the freeways were open with not much traffic and I buzzed on in. We loaded up, parked her Suburban in a secure area behind my office, and headed north up I-45 in my 4WD Suburban.. Water everywhere and a light rain falling on us until we passed Huntsville, 60 miles north of Houston, when the rain hit us. By “the rain”, I mean the main rains of Allison.

The storm had stopped north of Huntsville and was dumping rain over the countryside. On the Interstate we were forced to slow down, blinkers flashing, to 30 miles per hour for the next 50 miles! By the time we had driven to Fairfield we had passed through the heart of Allison, but no “eyes” for me this time. With a light mist and rain all of the way we drove on to Hot Springs, with the weather clearing the next day.

We followed the storm closely on radio and TV and the tournament proceeded as scheduled and my team won our classification and qualified for the Nationals in Plano in September. Allison was another story.

The storm made landfall in Texas, on June 4, 2001, passed through Houston, stopped around Buffalo, north of Houston, turned back into the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into Louisiana, then skipped down the north shore of the Gulf, turned northeast along the Georgia/Florida line, up the East Coast and finally, on June 18, turned out into the North Atlantic Ocean. Damage estimates were over six billion dollars. Texas and Louisiana led the list, with third place in damage, of all things, Pennsylvania! Over 40 people were killed by the storm, 23 in Texas alone, and Allison dumped over 40 inches of rain on Southeast Texas, the fourth highest amount of any storm in recorded history.

So ended Allison, the most expensive, damaging and dangerous tropical storm on record!

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