Tropical storm Beta floods Houston, and days of heavy rainfall are still to come

A National Hurricane Center image shows where heavy rain is expected as Tropical Storm Beta dumps water on the Gulf states.
A National Hurricane Center image shows where heavy rain is expected as Tropical Storm Beta dumps water on the Gulf states. (Image credit: NHC/NOAA)

Floods and heavy rain have closed schools and businesses across southeastern Texas, as tropical storm Beta moves across the region.

Beta is weaker than initial projections, but it is still dumping a dangerous amount of water on the region. Its slow progress makes the situation worse, because there's more time for rain to fall on impacted areas.

Related: 10 signs that Earth's climate is off the rails

"This is a very slow-moving storm that has tracked inland. Please be weather aware and stay off the roadways unless travel is necessary," Houston police chief Art Acevedo wrote on Twitter.

Flash floods will be likely across southeastern Texas for days, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

In Galveston, a city on a barrier island off the Texas coast, Beta brought high tides 3 feet (91 centimeters) higher than usual. That caused serious damage to coastal dunes that protect the island from flooding, according to The Daily News — compounding damage the dunes took from Hurricane Laura less than a month ago.

Once Beta is done with Texas, the storm is expected to move out over water again, before making a second landfall in Louisiana, according to the NHC. Many in that region, particularly Lake Charles, are still homeless or without power after Laura, according to local TV station 7-KPLC. Some may never rebuild at this point, the news station reported.

Beta is the first storm named after a Greek letter ever to hit the mainland United States. (Alpha hit Portugal last week, and the six Greek-letter storms that formed in 2005 hit Atlantic islands or petered out over open water.) The NHC uses Greek letters when it runs out of names from its alphabetical-order list prepared before hurricane season. This has only happened once before, in 2005. 

Related: A history of destruction: 8 great hurricanes

The first half of hurricane season this year has been by far the busiest ever, exhausting the list much faster than 2005, when Greek letters weren't called on until late October. There have been 23 named storms so far this year, and there are 22 letters left in the Greek alphabet.

Scientists believe that as climate change warms the oceans, hurricanes will become more powerful. This year's extraordinary hurricane season on the East Coast has coincided with a brutal series of heat waves and associated wildfires on the West Coast, which has been blanketed in smoke. (Wildfire season is also getting worse thanks to climate change.) Most Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms happen during September and October, though they often extend into November. In the 2005 season, the final storm didn't peter out over water until after the start of the new year.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.