Last Wednesday brought heavy rains and familiar, if unpleasant, sights to Houston: roads swamped by overflowing bayous and hundreds of stranded drivers.
By the time of the morning commute that gloomy day, the city was paralyzed. Schools and businesses were closed. Buses and trains halted. City email blasts urged residents to avoid traveling if they did not absolutely have to.
In the end, the city was able to get public transit back running by noon and route traffic around still-flooded intersections. There were no reported serious injuries or deaths.
But an obvious question looms: What if the rains return during Super Bowl week, when Houston expects hundreds of thousands of visitors to attend events downtown and around the NRG Stadium complex?
February is typically the second-driest month in Houston, averaging a little more than three inches of rain (June, the wettest, averages seven inches). But of course averages fail to account for single rain events. Seven inches dumped on several Houston neighborhoods within a 12-hour period last week.
Could a repeat be in store for the Super Bowl? Josh Lichter, a meteorologist with the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, said the Super Bowl is still too far away to make weather predictions. But looking back over past years, the record rainfall at Hobby Airport for February 5 is just 2.27 inches.
Historically, April has been as dry as February in Houston. But last year's Tax Day Flood dumped more than 15 inches of rain across many Harris County communities. So another massive rain event is not out of the question.
"We'll have a much better idea as the week progresses," Lichter said.
Michael Walter, a spokesman for Houston's Office of Emergency Management, said the city is prepared for more flooding. One benefit to heavy rainfall during Super Bowl week is the OEM will already be operational because of the planned festivities.
“All the people will already be there, ready to barricade areas and get rescue assets staged,” Walter said.
A meteorologist will be camped out at the OEM to assist the city and the NFL in postponing or canceling events — though the league, as event organizer, has the final call. As for the more than 130,000 fans Houston expects to visit during the Super Bowl, Walter said METRO is prepared to reroute its buses around flooded areas to move people out of danger if need be.
“We've done this enough that our local agencies know the routes to take and where the floods will be,” Walter said. “They're able to move resources and handle the impacts of this event.”
As for the NFL itself, the league says it is prepared for any scenario. Spokesman Brian McCarthy said via email that the NFL would work with local authorities when deciding how to change its game plan due to bad weather, such as flooding.
"We would not put people in harm’s way or divert resources away from a local community, McCarthy said.
In its 50-year history, the Super Bowl has never been moved or postponed because of weather, but there have been some close calls, including a freak ice storm in Atlanta in 2000. But Atlanta's tale may be one of caution: The NFL gave the city the cold shoulder for a return visit, until last year, when the league awarded it the 2019 Super Bowl.