Houston Dodges Cindy as Storm Shifts East

As of 1 o'clock on Thursday morning, Tropical Storm Cindy was sitting offshore just south of the Texas-Louisiana border moving north-northwest at 7 mph, with sustained winds of 50 mph and a whole lot of rain well to the east of the center of the storm.

Just after 3 a.m., there were no weather-related delays at Hobby Airport or Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Harris County Flood Control district has yet to report any significant flooding in the region.

The forecast track has remained remarkably reliable over the past few days and as we have mentioned in previous posts, a shift of even 100 miles one way or another can make a huge difference in rainfall totals and wind in the area. But why is that?

Tropical storms rotate counterclockwise, as do all low-pressure systems in the Northern Hemisphere. As they do, they normally form a closed circulation around the center of the disturbance. When the storm reaches hurricane strength, that center is called the eye. The most destructive winds and heaviest rains are located close to the eye wall in the north and northeast quadrants of the storm.

When storms struggle to form that closed circulation, as Cindy has, they can become oblong and rainy conditions can develop far from the center, typically well east of what would become the eye were it to strengthen. With Cindy, the rain is several hundred miles east, with some additional fairly heavy totals coming just north of the center of what circulation exists.

Rainfall totals will be worst along the path of Cindy's center, but also well to the east in Alabama and Mississippi.
Rainfall totals will be worst along the path of Cindy's center, but also well to the east in Alabama and Mississippi.
National Hurricane Center

Houston, being on the western side of the storm, is seeing only moderate rainfall and some gusty winds leading up to landfall. It's not unlikely some of that rain will slide into the area, but most will remain east of Interstate 45. Areas like Baytown could see fairly decent rainfall totals (3-4 inches or more), while the western part of the city, even close to downtown, could remain almost entirely dry or see less than an inch.

A lot is made of tropical disturbances, and it is necessary. Had Cindy taken a track to the west of its original position near the Yucatan Peninsula, we could be seeing the weather that's hammering eastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. That's why forecasters caution that anyone in the path of a storm needs to be aware of what is happening.

But Cindy also represents a lesson in how watching news reports must be tempered with at least some knowledge of how storms work and the ramifications of the way they form and what that means. If you have lived your whole life along the Gulf Coast or intend to spend any significant time here, it is in your best interest to know.

Fortunately, Cindy shouldn't complicate things for Houston, where we consider the kind of rain we'll get from this storm something akin to a summer thunderstorm. But the fact that we are only in June and the heart of hurricane season is still more than two months away is a good reminder that being informed when it comes to tropical weather is always a good thing.

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