Texas thunderstorms force Woodlands Center to close, more storms to come

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Deadly thunderstorms moved through Southeast Texas on Monday and caused widespread flooding, power outages and forced area schools to cancel classes, including Sam Houston State University’s Woodlands Center location.

SHSU canceled all classes at the Woodlands Center on Monday but kept the Huntsville campus open, telling commuters to “use good judgment with travel plans,” according to a KatSafe notification sent out at 10:25am.

The decision to close the Woodlands Center was made after SHSU officials evaluated weather reports and road conditions in the area, according to Vice Provost Richard Eglsaer, PhD. Normally, SHSU President Dana G. Hoyt makes the final call, but with her being out of town, the decision fell to the Provost Office, who consulted with SHSU Police Chief Kevin Morris.

“On Monday morning, we consulted around 5:50 a.m. and discussed current weather conditions and current closures in Montgomery and Walker Counties… I also traveled to the Woodlands Campus to get a first-hand look at the conditions in this area since this area had more rain,” Morris said.

A weather gage near the Woodlands Campus recorded 9.52 inches of rain on Monday, according to the Harris County Flood District.

Even with the severe weather conditions south of SHSU’s Main Campus, the weather was not severe enough in the Huntsville area to cancel classes, according to Eglsaer.

“If we closed the campus down every time there was bad weather in Houston we’d have trouble,” Eglsaer said, adding that although some students and faculty were unable to reach campus, “A good majority of our people were not affected by the floods so to call off school would’ve been irresponsible.”

The Huntsville area received 2.99 inches of rainfall on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

As for those students commuting to campus, SHSU administrators assume that students will use good judgment when deciding whether or not they should drive to class.

“Think of it as you being in the workforce. If you’re stuck and can’t get to work, you call your boss and tell them you couldn’t make it because of the weather,” Eglsaer said. “And certainly if they’ve had any type of awareness of the news, they’d understand.”

If any student-commuters are ever unable to reach campus due to weather conditions, they should contact their professors who, according to Eglsaer, SHSU administrators “assume will be reasonable and understand if the roads are flooded.”

Eglsaer said that a professor who decides to penalize a student in this situation for missing class “would certainly be a case of unfairness,” at which point the student should file an appeal, which, according to Eglsaer, would be in the student’s favor.

“If a student feels that they cannot safely make it to class, the Dean of Students’ Office is available to work with students in notifying their professors of any difficulties they may be experiencing due to this weather event,” Morris added.

As of the Spring 2016 registration, approximately 6,000 students indicated they would not be living inside of Walker County this semester, according to Donna Artho, Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness.

However, the majority of students shouldn’t have had much trouble reaching campus on Monday because Huntsville did not see nearly as much rain as other areas in Texas, according to SHSU Geology Professor Jeanne Sumrall, PhD.

The amount of rainfall is a major contributing factor to the amount of local flooding, but it is not the only factor, according to Sumrall.

“We have rolling hills that tend to drain quickly,” Sumrall said, adding that certain parts of Houston not only received excessive amounts of rain but also runoff from other areas, including Huntsville.

More bad weather

With more thunderstorms predicted in the Huntsville area on Wednesday and Thursday, SHSU’s management team will continue to monitor the situation for potential impacts to properties in Walker and Montgomery Counties in order to minimize risk, according to Morris.

“Students, faculty and staff should also track weather conditions and monitor the SHSU webpage for updated information under the Katsafe icon concerning information impacting the University,” Morris said, adding that the campus community should also make sure their Katsafe contact information is up to date with contact information where they would like to receive notifications.

At the time of publication, Walker County is under a Flash Flood Watch through Wednesday evening, according to the NWS. A “watch” means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding.

Widespread thunderstorms are expected to develop Wednesday morning and continue throughout the afternoon with possible rainfall totals reaching up to four inches in localized areas, according to Sumrall, who predicts the weather system should finally pass through Thursday night.

Houston area hit the hardest

More than a foot of rain fell on the Houston area during Monday’s storm, leaving eight people dead, shutting down major highways, more than a thousand homes and businesses flooded and classes canceled for roughly one million students, including most area colleges and universities.

“A lot of rain coming in a very short period of time, there’s nothing you can do,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday in a press conference.

“This is an unprecedented amount of rain…It’s been stubborn, and it’s not moving anytime fast,” Turner said, alluding to weather reports of possible additional rainfall through Thursday.

An estimated 225 billion gallons of rain fell on Houston in a 24-hour period, according to The Weather Channel, with some Houston neighborhoods receiving up to 20 inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who announced increased readiness of the State’s operations center on Sunday in preparation for the storm, made a state disaster declaration on Monday for nine Texas counties, including Montgomery County just south of SHSU.

The state disaster declaration, which Abbott speculated more counties would be added to in the coming days, will allow local officials to implement state emergency assistance plans and implement curfews if needed.

Abbott commended local emergency officials, who conducted over 1,200 high-water rescues on Monday.

“In quintessential fashion, Texans have stepped up and aided their fellow Texans and have literally saved so many lives that cannot even be counted because of the robust water rescue operations,” Abbott said in a press conference Monday afternoon.

In Montgomery County, over 260 water rescues were carried out on Monday, according to the county’s emergency management officials.