Weather Panic Appears to Be Houston's New Normal

This was taken after Harvey. During, it was under water. See, things do go back to normal eventually.
This was taken after Harvey. During, it was under water. See, things do go back to normal eventually. Photo by Cory Garcia
On Friday, June 8, reports began floating around the internet, particularly on social media. A weather forecast model used to predict hurricane track and intensity showed a hurricane off the coast of Texas in ten days. It was a single model run among dozens of that single model and none of the other reliable forecasting tools predicted anything. Yet, there it was and many felt obliged to mention it.

It is difficult to know what one should do with that information whether that person is in the media or simply someone interested in weather. Anyone who has spent even a relatively short period of time reading on weather forecasting understands that trying to predict what the weather will do in 5, 7, 10 days is complicated, at best, foolhardy at worst.

And Houston should be used to this sort of thing. Tropical weather is a way of life along the Gulf coast and not all of it is bad. A large portion of Houston's summer rainfall totals are influenced by our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and much of that weather is tropical in nature.

With storms like Harvey and Allison in our history, the most recent being the worst rainfall even in the history of the United States, it is understandable that some would worry. But, the level of fear surrounding even a small amount of rainfall is palpable and worrisome.

Comments on websites and social media began flying this week as a weak tropical system approached the Texas coastline. In even the most dire of forecasts, predictions called for perhaps six or eight inches of rain over several days. As of Monday evening, the seven-day rainfall totals around the Houston area were between 1 and 3 inches. In seven days. Harvey dropped 1 to 3 inches per hour.

The problem becomes not only how we handle bad weather when it comes, but how people in the media handle telling us. Should weather forecasters be gentle, tell us it won't be that bad? Should they over-hype in case no one believes them (chances of that now appear low)? Even the most level headed among forecasters seem to inspire an urge to freak out.

For a while, anyway, it is safe to say Houstonians are going to struggle with these feelings. Post traumatic stress is a real thing and when Mother Nature dumps 50 inches of rain on your head one summer, it's normal get a little freaked out at the sign of oncoming rainfall.

But, it's also important to remember where we live. This isn't the desert. We're more like a rainforest. Rainfall is why our city is so lush and green. It's why it's so humid here. And tropical weather is an important part of our ecosystem. Eventually, we'll begin to remember life before Harvey. We'll remember that it gets really hot, then it rains, then it gets really hot again. Soon enough, fall will come around and we'll breath a heavy sigh of relief...until next summer.

Hopefully, as summers pass and we don't face Harvey or Allison again (at least not for a while), the fear will fade and we can get back to stressing over normal Houston stuff like traffic and the Astros. Until then, try not to worry and enjoy the rainfall. It's a huge part of what makes Houston so Houston in the first place.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke