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Edouard May Assist Parched Central Texas

August 6, 2008

By Mike Tolson, Houston Chronicle

Aug. 6–Wind and rain, occasionally heavy but never severe, marked the arrival of Tropical Storm Edouard on Tuesday. By day’s end there was little to remember him by other than soggy turf and a few aggravated souls left without power.

Edouard, which was downgraded to a tropical depression not long after making landfall along the easternmost reaches of Texas’ upper coast, politely skirted the region’s most populous areas.

Houston got a good soaking, Galveston not even that. People who got an unexpected day off, or were forced to take one because of canceled child care arrangements, might have wondered why. Shelters closed for lack of anyone using them.

The real action — such as it was — took place in eastern Harris, Chambers and Jefferson counties. They experienced the highest winds and hardest rains. So far no deaths or significant damage have been attributed to either.

For the thousands who suffered from power interruption — or the travelers who had to deal with 255 canceled flights at Bush Intercontinental Airport — the little storm that popped up out of nowhere to threaten the Texas and Louisiana coasts likely will prompt no fond memories. But for the rest of the region, and those still standing in its projected path across the midsection of the state, Fast Eddie was likely to provide some benefit.

The anticipated downpours could significantly help areas most severely affected by drought this summer, said Texas Department of Agriculture spokesman Bryan Black. Most of Central Texas, from the heart of the state across the Edwards Plateau, is suffering drought conditions, from “extreme” to “exceptional,” the worst possible ranking under the U.S. Drought Monitor, Black said.

“It really looks like the track of Edouard is heading right to that section,” Black said as the storm pushed further inland. “As long as we could have some good consistent rain, that would really help us out. This could be a wonderful thing if we do not receive high winds or flooding in the area.”

The one downside to Edouard’s rapid disorganization as it moves northwest is that the rains probably won’t reach the Midland-Odessa area, which is under “extreme” drought conditions — just slightly less severe than exceptional. Midland has recorded only three-fourths of an inch of rain since May 1, just 15 percent of its normal rainfall, Black said.

Edouard breezed ashore Tuesday morning about midway between High Island, in eastern Galveston County, and Sabine Pass, at the Louisiana border. While those in Houston may have wondered why the storm even had a name, those in its path at least got a taste, however briefly, of weather worthy of a warning.

Chambers County recorded 3 to 5 inches of rain Monday morning along with wind gusts of up to 65 mph, compared with 95 mph winds from Hurricane Humberto, which struck the same area on Sept. 13 last year. For part of the day, high water on Interstate 10 at Texas 61 forced a brief detour from the freeway, and there were some power outages and limbs down.

Chambers County’s emergency management coordinator, Ryan Holzaepfel, said Edouard caused little damage and proved a boon to a county that had been under a burn ban because of the recent dry spell.

“Mostly the county got a much needed rain,” said Holzaepfel.

Baytown reported sustained winds of 35 mph at storm’s peak and was inundated with 6 1/2 inches of rain that caused street flooding and several vehicle accidents. Beaumont experienced winds measured at 40 mph, but emergency officials received no reports of serious structural damage or flooding. Port Arthur, to the southeast, got the highest winds, with gusts reported up to 70 mph, said John Owens, the city’s deputy police chief and emergency management coordinator.

At the peak of the storm, Entergy, which provides power to much of Southeast Texas, reported power out to 37,000 customers. By late morning, however, the company said service had been restored to more than half the affected customers.

The largest number still without power were located in Beaumont and Port Arthur in Jefferson County; Dayton in Liberty County and New Caney and Conroe in Montgomery County.

The fast-moving storm had been headed straight toward Houston as late as Monday night before veering north into rural areas.

Galveston, which also had been penciled in for a direct hit the previous day, all but dodged the storm, getting little more than an inch of rain. There were few outward signs that a storm had passed through the city other than a steady breeze, a few businesses with plywood still shielding their windows and sparsely populated beaches.

A few local surfers showed up in search of bigger waves. Most tourists, however, had left town. Among the few who stayed were Pat Adams, 37, his wife Charlotte, 37, and their five children, ages 5-13.

“It’s just nothing,” Adams, from New Iberia, La., said about Edouard. The Adamses were strolling along the beach and said they would probably take their children swimming when the wind slackened.

Chronicle reporters Peggy O’Hare, Cindy Horswell, Harvey Rice and Dale Lezon contributed to this report.

mike.tolson@chron.com

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