Update (1158ET): Nicholas intensified into a Category 1 hurricane early this morning before making landfall southwest of Galveston, Texas. The storm has been downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph as it slowly traverses the Greater Houston area.
Much of Texas' coastline is under tropical storm warning, and metro areas like Houston could be prone to flash floods. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said first responders are in the Houston area and along the coast.
Meteorologist Kent Prochazka of the National Weather Service told AP News that Nicholas had downed trees. In the southeast part of the state, there are a half-million customers without power, as of 1113 ET.
Widespread rainfall of 5 to 10 inches is expected across Southeast Texas. Some isolated areas could receive up to 18 inches.
An emerging threat is the storm tracking to southeastern Louisiana, mainly west of New Orleans, where soils had yet to recover from Hurricane Ida a few weeks ago, which may result in flash flooding if torrential rains are seen.
"Soils have not yet recovered from Hurricane Ida a couple of weeks ago in eastern Louisiana," the Weather Service wrote. "These areas are currently receiving heavy rainfall which is expected to continue … priming soils for flooding, and Beaumont/Port Arthur/Lake Charles can be particularly sensitive to flash flooding, thus the High Risk."
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Hurricane Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday morning on the Matagorda Peninsula just south of Houston, Texas. Nicholas hit the area as a Category 1 but has since been downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. Oil refiners, chemical makers, grain exporters, and even multiple nuclear power plants are in its path.
Ahead of Nicholas' arrival, two major oil export terminals either suspended or restricted vessel traffic. Port authorities in Corpus Christi halted inbound sailing; Ports in Houston and other surrounding areas restricted vessel traffic. Preparations for the storm included oil companies evacuating offshore oil/gas platforms and hunkering down land-based operations.
What's on our radar this morning is the storm passing over the nuclear power station southwest of Bay City, Texas, about 90 miles southwest of Houston. The 12,200-acre site is home to South Texas Project Electric Generating Station. The storm is forecasted to arrive in oil and gas heavy Houston by early afternoon.
At the moment, about 340,000 customers are without power in Southeast Texas.
Storm impacts and energy outages could be problematic for COVID hotspots.
Nicholas emerged on our radar last Friday as a tropical wave over Honduras, the western Caribbean Sea, and has since organized and strengthened into a hurricane and now downgraded to a tropical storm.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) expects storm surges of 2 to 5 feet and up to 18 inches of rain in some areas over southeast Texas. Some of these areas are crammed with industrial facilities, and even coastal neighborhoods could be prone to flooding. One area to watch for flooding is Houston:
"Houston is in the crosshairs," Steve Silver, a senior meteorologist with Maxar, noting that precipitation poses a bigger threat than wind, told Bloomberg. Nicholas will be "a significant rainfall event."
The storm's timing is precarious for the oil/gas industry that has been crushed by Hurricane Ida, hitting neighboring Louisiana two weeks ago. Oil-refining and offshore drilling have been paralyzed in the wake of the storm. Making matters worse, Nicholas could make its way to Louisana by early Wednesday into late Thursday.
Currently, 44% of U.S. Gulf crude production is offline, while 52% of the region's gas output is down. This has put a bid under natgas and crude prices.
"Investors were worried that Nicholas would cause further disruption in the Gulf Coast at a time when they were trying to figure out how long crude output would stay affected from Ida," said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst at Rakuten Securities.
The International Energy Agency said losses from Hurricane Ida have wiped out increases from OPEC+. The organization said additional supplies would come online in October.