Hurricane Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday over the Gulf Coast of Texas before being downgraded to a tropical storm, lashing weary residents with powerful wind gusts and driving rain as it moved toward Houston.
The center of the storm made landfall just after 12:30 a.m. Central time on the eastern part of the Matagorda Peninsula, about 10 miles west-southwest of Sargent Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. Nicholas, which has maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, is moving north-northeast at nine m.p.h., the center said.
Early Tuesday morning, more than 250,000 customers in Texas were without electricity, according to CenterPoint Energy’s website, which said that extended power outages were likely in the Houston area. Forecasters expected the storm to weaken as it moves toward southeastern Texas on Tuesday and southwestern Louisiana on Wednesday.
Nicholas was expected to bring up to a foot of rain to parts of coastal Texas, the center said, raising concerns for flash flooding. Warnings of a dangerous storm surge extended east to Louisiana, where people are still recovering after Hurricane Ida battered the southern reaches of the state two weeks ago.
At a news conference on Monday night, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said roadways in the Houston area appeared to be mostly clear, and she thanked residents for staying home.
“We can’t let our guard down,” Judge Hidalgo said, adding that strong wind gusts were still a concern.
Zach Davidson, the spokesman for the office of emergency management in Galveston County, said residents should remain cautious — even if the streets look manageable in their own neighborhoods, he added.
“It may be all right where you are, but if you get on the road to go somewhere else and those roads get flooded, it becomes a very dangerous situation,” Mr. Davidson said.
Officials in Louisiana were also mindful of lessons from past storms.
“I know that bracing for another storm while we’re still responding to, and trying to recover from, Hurricane Ida is not the position that we wanted to be in,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said at a news conference on Monday afternoon. “But it is a situation that we are prepared for.”
Nicholas formed on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico, the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.
What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?
During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean →
It has been a dizzying couple of months for meteorologists as the arrival of peak hurricane season — August through November — led to a run of named storms that formed in quick succession, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to parts of the United States and the Caribbean.
Tropical Storm Mindy hit the Florida Panhandle on Sept. 8, just hours after it formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Larry, which formed on Sept. 1, strengthened to a Category 3 storm two days later and then weakened. It struck Canada as a Category 1 hurricane and caused widespread power outages in Newfoundland.
Ida battered Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29 before its remnants brought deadly flooding to the New York area. Two other tropical storms, Julian and Kate, both fizzled out within a day at the same time.
Not long before them, in mid-August, Tropical Storm Fred made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and Hurricane Grace hit Haiti and Mexico. Tropical Storm Henri knocked out power and brought record rainfall to the Northeastern United States on Aug. 22.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms. But the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic Ocean before the official start of the season on June 1.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be an above-average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.
NOAA updated its forecast in early August, predicting 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Jacey Fortin, Jesus Jiménez, Christopher Mele, Edgar Sandoval and Daniel Victor contributed reporting.
President Biden visited California on Monday to tout his efforts to better protect the state against the raging wildfires that have burned more than two million acres, displaced thousands and pushed responders to the brink of exhaustion.
“These fires are blinking code red for our nation,” said Mr. Biden, who used the occasion to promote two bills pending in Congress that would fund forest management and more resilient infrastructure as well as combat global warming. The country cannot “ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” he said.
But experts say there are limits to what the federal government can do to reduce the scale and destructive power of the fires, at least in the short term. That’s because much of the authority needed relies on state and local governments, those experts said.
Federal action largely depends on Congress approving new funding — but even if approved, that money might not make much of a difference anytime soon.
“Climate change impacts can’t be absolved in a single year,” said Roy Wright, who was in charge of risk mitigation at the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018. The goal, he said, should be “investments that will pay back over the coming three to five years.”
On wildfires, like so much else, Mr. Biden has presented himself as the opposite of former President Donald J. Trump: Clear about the role of climate change, willing to listen to experts, and promising to better defend places like California against a growing threat.
“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Mr. Biden said in a speech last year as California staggered through record-breaking fires. “If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?”
Mr. Biden, of course, won the election — only to see the damage from wildfires in California and across the country continue to get worse.
On Monday, Mr. Biden flew over the Caldor fire, which has consumed more than 200,000 acres south of Lake Tahoe and forced thousands of people from their homes.
“We have to act more rapidly and more firmly and more broadly than today,” Mr. Biden told a small crowd gathered in the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “We can’t afford to let anything slip further. It really is a matter of what the world will look like.”
Some of the largest wildfires in U.S. history are burning across the American West this year, charring vast swaths of forest land and threatening communities. This interactive map built by The New York Times, using government and satellite data, is tracking wildfires as they spread across Western states. Check back regularly for updates.