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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — High-water rescue teams were on alert along hundreds of miles of the Gulf Coast on Sunday as Tropical Storm Beta threatened to pound the weather-weary region with damaging storm surge and drenching rains.
Beta becomes the latest in a long line of storms this hurricane season forecast to batter the region and the record books.
Beta already has made history as the earliest 23rd-named tropical storm in the Atlantic, replacing Alpha, nearly 15 years ago. Alpha, which formed on Oct. 22, 2005, was the first-ever storm to be assigned a Greek letter.
Beta, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, was 120 miles south of Galveston, Texas, at 10 p.m. CDT Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was expected to make landfall Monday or early Tuesday between Corpus Christi and Galveston, according to AccuWeather.
Already, though, Beta is causing damage: The 61 Street Fishing Pier in Galveston partially collapsed on Sunday night, with the National Weather Service in Houston blaming rough surf and high tide.
The rough surf and high tide has brought structural damage to the 61st St. Fishing Pier in Galveston as seen on the @SaltwaterRecon webcam – this is a great reminder that it is never a good idea to go out on these structures!#glswx#houwx#txwxpic.twitter.com/faJLwXt75y
— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) September 21, 2020
It would be the ninth system to make landfall in the United States this season, tying a record set more than 100 years ago. Authorities worry residents have become storm-fatigued and might react too casually to Beta’s potential since hurricane status is not likely.
“We are still in the hurricane season,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded on social media.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said areas from Victoria to Beaumont, more than 200 miles to the northeast, can expect heavy flooding.
“We are providing water rescue teams across the Gulf Coast to help save lives,” Abbott said. “Texas is prepared to support communities in the path of the storm.”
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect over more than 400 miles of coast from Port Aransas, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana. In Corpus Christi, officials ran out of sandbags at both of its distribution locations late Saturday. The city said it handed out nearly 7,000 free sandbags to residents prepping for the storm.
In Galveston, voluntary evacuation orders were issued for some areas and ferry service was suspended. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said residents of low-lying areas who stay should be prepared to survive for three or four days without power.
“We’re not incredibly worried,” Galveston resident Nancy Kitcheo said Sunday, and her family gathered supplies to ride out the storm in their home sitting on stilts, 18 feet above ground. “This has definitely been more stressful, this hurricane season.”
Beta’s slow advancement – it was moving at just 6 mph Sunday night – follows a recurring theme in storms this season: slow movers that can stall over an area and dump a foot or more of rain. When Hurricane Sally made landfall along the Alabama-Florida border on Wednesday, some areas were hit with 30 inches of rain before the storm meandered north.
Even if Beta fails to make landfall, days of heavy rainfall and flooding are likely, even well away from the center of the storm, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
“The slow movement of the system has raised alarms among AccuWeather forecasters,” Sosnowski said, citing Hurricane Harvey, which blasted parts of the region with up to 5 feet of rain in 2017. “Even though this system will not reach the strength of Harvey, it will have the resources to produce torrential rainfall.”
Flash and urban flooding are likely, the weather service said.
Forecasters also were watching Hurricane Teddy, with maximum sustained winds at 105 mph, located 320 miles south-southeast of Bermuda. Swells from Teddy were affecting most of the U.S. East Coast with life-threatening surf and rip current conditions in some areas.
For only the second time in history, the National Hurricane Center moved into the Greek alphabet for storm names. All 21 storm names preapproved for the season by the World Meteorological Organization have been used. The 2005 hurricane season was the only other time the Greek alphabet has been brought out, and there were six: Tropical Storm Alpha, Hurricane Beta, Tropical Storm Gamma, Tropical Storm Delta, Hurricane Epsilon and Tropical Storm Zeta.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia. Contributing: Joe Jacquez, USA TODAY Network; Rachael Thomas, Florida Today; The Associated Press
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