Texas warns us that we’re unprepared for normal weather

Summary:  We get a lesson from the weather about America’s lack of preparedness for quite normal “disasters” (events). Our fascination with doomster scenarios is fun, as we thrill to op-eds asking if we will we start WWIII with Putin — or die in the deserts of 2100 or die in its flooding seas — but it distracts us from managing America’s routine operations.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.


While we bicker fruitlessly about the weather in 2050 and 2100, we ignore the clear lessons from disasters of the past decade. Hurricane Katrina revealed a city with elaborate (and expensively prepared) disaster procedures, but totally unprepared to implement them. Hurricane Sandy revealed a city unprepared for weather that occurred in its area several times in the 20th C. The current flooding in Texas: showed State proud to have resisted Commie-lite land use regulation and high taxes — and so severely damaged by floods typical in its region.

Not only are we vulnerable to normal weather (“normal” by the usual 100-year standard), we’re vulnerable to less frequent but inevitable weather (e.g., a Category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting a major city, like Miami). It’s yet another example of our focus on theoretical future disasters while we ignore imminent dangers, such as our dying oceans (details in this post, and this one).

Today’s reading shows America’s vision in operation. Blind and dumb is no way to run a superpower, or even prosper in the harsh wilds of the 21st C.

Texas And Oklahoma Floods 2015:
Flooded Properties In Central Texas Were Knowingly Built In Harm’s Way.

by Maria Gallucci, International Business Times.
29 May 2015 — Excerpt

As torrential downpours ripped through San Marcos, Texas, earlier this week, the town’s two rivers swiftly burst over their banks and surged into homes and across roads. At the Woodlands of San Marcos, a new housing complex, thick brown waters flooded the buildings’ first floors.

Stephen Ramirez said he wasn’t exactly surprised to see the damage. The 306-unit development is being built in a floodplain and sits just steps from the San Marcos River. When city officials were mulling a zoning change in 2012 to allow the project to proceed, Ramirez and other opponents repeatedly warned about the risks of flooding.

… But the flooded complex in San Marcos and other damaged properties in the region point to the broader challenges facing America’s communities: As populations swell and urban development abounds, cities and towns are increasingly allowing developers to build squarely in harm’s way.

… Nicholas Pinter, a floodplain expert in Southern Illinois University’s Geology Department, said the case of Woodlands highlights the “inevitable tensions” between the rights of private property owners and the risks of building in floodplains. He said often developers and policymakers focus on the short-term benefits — rental dollars, higher tax bases — of building along rivers and in watersheds, rather than account for the long-term risks to homeowners and businesses. “Every single flood event shows the errors of our ways,” Pinter said. “This is mostly local development and political pressures against the widely agreed upon advice of floodplain managers and scientists.”

He pointed to the massive 1993 flood in the U.S. Midwest as an example. Flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers caused $16 billion in damages, prompting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to buy out 7,700 properties in Illinois and Missouri at a cost of $56.3 million. The idea was to limit and reduce development in floodplains and leave certain swaths of land to Mother Nature. But less than a decade later, a boom of real estate and infrastructure projects began cropping up in the nearby St. Louis floodplain, once again boosting the population in risky areas, Pinter found in a 2005 policy paper. “Amnesia amazingly kicks in within just three to four years,” he said. “It leads people to a sense of complacency.”

———————————-  End excerpt  ———————————-

Putting the flooding in a broader context

(1) Recommended: A great article about our larger problems, which also provides an important contest to this event: “The Age Of Disinformation” by James Spann (meteorologist) at Medium — Excerpt…

Yes, the flooding in Houston yesterday was severe, and a serious threat to life and property. A genuine weather disaster that has brought on suffering.

But, no, this was not “unprecedented”. Flooding from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was more widespread, and flood waters were deeper. There is no comparison. In fact, many circulated this image in recent days, claiming it is “Houston underwater” from the flooding of May 25–26, 2015. The truth is that this image was captured in June 2001 during flooding from Allison.

Flood events in 2009, 2006, 1998, 1994, 1989, 1983, and 1979 brought higher water levels to most of Houston, and there were many very serious flood events before the 1970s.

(2) An analysis of the news media’s exaggerations and misrepresentations of weather: “NBC Continues Media Push Blaming Flooding in Texas, Drought in California on Climate Change” at Newsbusters. Especially note how alarmists have invented the “climate whiplash” to tie together unrelated forms of weather so that everything — no matter how normal — becomes climate change.Also, no mention of the IPCC.

(3)  “In Texas, the Race to Build in Harm’s Way Outpaces Flood-Risk Studies and Warming Impacts” by Andrew C. Revkin at the New York Times. It’s the NYT, so he opens with a statement of the revealed faith (no need to quote a scientists) …

“Somewhere, deep in the statistical noise, there is a contribution from the global buildup of heat-trapping gases changing the climate system. Among the clearest outcomes of global warming are hotter heat waves and having more of a season’s rain come in heavy downpours.”

This is quite false. Future warming will increase precipitation, but that does not mean the warming of the past 2 centuries has had such an impact — and certainly does not mean that the human caused warming since 1950 has had such an impact. Once Revkin has made his profession of faith, the rest of the article describes the mad development policies of Texas.

(4)  A clear demonstration of how fears of future climate change confuse the need to prepare for normal weather: “Adapting to climate change is going to be a lot messier than we think” by Brad Plumer at Vox. Plumer wants to use normal weather — for which we’re unprepared — to boost fears of future climate change. The result is a mess.Welcome to the Future

For More Information

See the 1993 classic book forecasting our present problems Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. For a down to earth look at climate change see The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton (1973), a novel describing the 1905s drought that re-shaped Texas as crops shriveled and livestock died.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these Reference Pages for other posts about climate on the FM sites:  The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also, see these posts about our lack of preparedness for the past…

  1. Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?
  2. Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change.
  3. Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional? (plus important info about US hurricanes).
  4. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?
  5. Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping California.




10 thoughts on “Texas warns us that we’re unprepared for normal weather”

  1. The town that solved its flooding issues is Los Angeles. People take it for granted now since flood is so rare, but it’s all the result of massive engineering. Photos from the early 20th century show floods and all sorts of chaos, but what happened is they just fixed it. it was those nasty bad guys who destroyed the Owens valley, like in that Chinatown movie. They also spent some of that wealth to make the town safe from flood. Everywhere you go in LA, you see large wide cement storm drains. These things are ugly as anything, but really they do work.

    In comparison, I rode around with a friend showing me suburbs of Portland and he was showing me all the housing developments happening on land that had recently flooded. Honestly, I don’t know if I draw any conclusions from this, just putting this out there as one data point.

  2. You can ride your bike down there too as when I lived in W LA.

    Isn’t most of the problem cheap govt subsidized flood insurance?
    No one would otherwise ensure places very likely to be be flooded every 15 yrs.

    I suppose now we won’t hear about the Texas Drought being a result of AGW.

    1. Social Bill

      “About cheap Federal flood insurance”

      I too wondered about that. I glanced on Google to find info about the current state of that game, but couldn’t find anything.

      My house is in a flood plain. Although no floods in generations and no rivers nearby, the cost is exorbitant (so I don’t have it). This is an economic-data, so u suitable for generalizing.

      So all I know is this problem of America unprepared for weather is bad. My guess is that journalists’ misreporting of weather — everything is unprecedented– has induced paralysis, making it worse.

      Here is an article pointing to the sensationalist and false coverage of the Texas flooding:

    2. If you’re in an unincorporated area, and your land floods, I think that’s just a risk you take on yourself. If you’re in a city and they zone a flood prone area for housing and put in utilities, that’s a problem. Kind of how I see it

      1. Cathryn.

        As this article explains, the process is more complex. Local governments in fast-growing areas of America tend to be controlled by developers. They push through favorable zoning no matter what the conditions. If there are ancient trees there, they illegally cut them down (happens in California frequently). If the geology is unsuitable, they just bribe as needed. If it’s a flood plane, apply bribes as needed.

        Things just “don’t happen” in America. Profits are made by careful manipulation of government regulations — about intellectual property (perpetual patents and copyrights on things that deserve neither), about land use, about labor and safety, about pollution. It’s an aspect of our rentier economy.

  3. Pingback: How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future. | Watts Up With That?

  4. Pingback: How We Broke the Climate Change Debates. Lessons Learned for the Future | US Issues

  5. Methinks you look down on TX real estate development too much, focusing on the exception, rather than the rule. Houston builds 80,000 units a year. The new developments are large and well capitalized and hardly ever have flooding. Old Houston neighborhoods do.

    The other thing you fail to take into account is that TX builds middle class housing in huge cities for 150,000 to 200,000 dollars. And plenty of it. LA may have better flood plain zoning but the overall impact of their housing regulation is 500,000 middle class housing and fewer homes built in all of California than are built in Houston.

    Total system performance is relevant, not this issue and then that issue. On that basis, the state of Texas does a very good job of making land available sufficient for the populace to keep housing prices from spiking while ensuring that the infrastructure is largely paid for privately. And yes when you’re building 350,000 new units a year statewide, there is the occasional San Marcos fiasco

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top