Coping: Local Government Lessons from Harvey

We kept in touch with Oilman2 over the weekend because he’s down in the Houston area.  We like to have eyes & boots on the ground and offer to help, if we can.

As it turns out, though,  he didn’t have any water problems at his home in The Woodlands area.  That’s just north of Houston on I-45, if you’re not familiar with the layout, but I suspect after the mass media hysteria this weekend, everyone know where Houston is, how much it rained, and oh yeah…it rained some there this weekend.

Even though his home didn’t get any water in it from the passing of Harvey, at least through last night, OM2 had some incredibly important information to pass on…

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Let’s start with some history.

When Hurricane Ike dumped on Houston several year back, OM2 got about a quarter of an inch of water inside his home.

Surprisingly, his real water problems, again a few years back, involved Tropical Depression Allison.  That storm didn’t pack the devastating winds, but it did sit over Houston doing incredible damage.  To the tune of 2-1/2 inches of rain in OM2’s house.

He’s been through the rain and flood thing before, so he knew the drill and what to do if things were to get that bad…which they didn’t.

But they sure as hell would have, had he not been proactively involved in a city hearing a couple of years ago.

I won’t go through the whole topography discussion, but let’s just say two things are important.

The first is that the local council was looking at putting in a 24″ storm sewer.  Well, OM2 knows the hydraulics like the back of his hand and so he got up in the hearing on the project and explained (in no uncertain terms) that if the city didn’t put in at least a 36″ storm drain, they would make absolutely NO PROGRESS toward the outcome of this particular storm sewer project.

One council member, who did follow, then asked the city, in so many words “Since this fellow has just laid out the physics of it, why are you coming to us with plans for something that won’t solve our problems?”

A fair bit of embarrassed shuffling, ass-covering, and bureaucratic nonsense followed, but in the end, the council (because OM2 showed up armed with the facts) had “shown them the Light.”

Fast forward to this weekend.

Even with his back yard the “low spot” for four houses, the water was running off in sheets and was happily going down the (correctly sized) storm drain.

The takeaway?  Even seemingly small items, like sizing of a storm sewer, can have a direct impact on how your home will fare when the crap is hitting the fan.

Along about Saturday, the same local council people were out “pressing the flesh” and offering “help” for people with problems.  Not that a politician could talk the rain away, but they might have a fair chance at boring it to death to get it to move on…

A council member showed up and told OM2 he was pleased to see that their street was dry, but my, wasn’t that a lot of water – a sheet several yards wide and nearly 2-inches deep – was flowing from OM2’s back yard to the street.

“Well, it’s didn’t use to be so bad.  But you see this-here neighbor behind me?  Ya’ll told him he could put in a retaining wall and concrete-over most of his back yard, and then put a roof over it.  By doing that, there is only one place for the water to run…and that’s into my yard.  And what did you do about it?  No one told me that was going to happen and now you’re sitting here asking how you can help?”

OM2 is not a slight fellow.  You don’t toss around big boy toys on rigs (on and offshore) for any length of time and remain either shy or frail.

Almost immediately, said city office “Run off like a scared rabbit…”  And with good reason.

Even in Houston, and even during weekends like this, people who live under the thumb of government remember that government is supposed to be a servant of the People.  Not people as servants of the government.

It may not seem like a big thing, but it really is.

Especially when it rains.

All Quiet in the Outback

I’m almost embarrassed to report how peaceful it was here.  We’re 200-miles from the closest coastal beach and 585-feet high.

We also live in what are called the Concorde Mountains.

They are not exactly the Alps of Texas, but they’re good enough to prevent a flood from ever happening here, at least so far.

I think OM2 muttered something about his flood insurance situation.  At first, the insurance companies played the “You don’t need flood insurance because you’re not in a flood plain.”

Then, after the events of both Ike and Allison, everyone wanted to dig in their heels because now OM2 lives in a flood plain.

The home insurance game here is a lot different.  Remember, we live in a highly modified modular home.  When we bought the place, insurance companies would write the homeowners, just like any other home.  But, in the past 10-years, or so, even the cost-efficient outfits like Geico are charging almost twice the homeowner insurance premiums for a mobile or modular than they do for a stick-built home.

Worse, the modulars,  local real estate people tell us, are a continuously depreciating asset.  Unlike stick-built homes that can go up in price.

Notice that I didn’t say value.  Utility value is about working windows, good a/c, and keeping Orkin on a schedule.  Stick-built home, like the current run-up in Bitcoins, are something of a mania.

I can think of a LOT of people who will want to pick up stakes and move from Houston.

And since we keep looking at a move to Payson, we’re looking to list sooner than later.  Seems to me there ought to be thousands of Houstonians who might appreciate 29-acres and some elevation.  Toss in property taxes that are 1/10th of what they run down in the new swamp, formerly called Houston, and we just might be able to get our move made yet.

As of a few minutes ago, we passed the one inch mark in the rain gauge with another 5-6 inches due in the next couple of days.  Even s0o, we had that much a few weeks back to it will be familiar territory.

RSS Feeds Repaired

If you’d like to use it, the RSS feeds are back online – and there’s a sign-up form as well.  They have been a bit flakey in the past, but they should be fairly reliable and stable now.  Link is on the upper right sidebar.  Don’t know if an ad-blocker kills it, or not…

If you get an email from us and don’t want the service there’s a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom.  Only the RSS subscribers who were marked “active” however, were imported to the new system.

Well, off to see how that new trading principle outlined on Peoplenomics this weekend is going to work out.

Write when you get rich or dry out —  and carry galoshes.

George@ure.net

Comments

Coping: Local Government Lessons from Harvey — 14 Comments

  1. This is about my 25th hurricane, having lived along the Gulf for big chunks of my life. I’ve had flood damage twice, and had roof damage a couple times – it goes with the territory. I’ve driven and worked during landfall of Cat 1,2 & 3 storms in Louisiana and Texas.

    As people should understand, the wind is the first issue – after that it is the rain. A tropical depression sat on us and flooded us years back – not even a hurricane. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing FEMA can do – it takes them a week to mobilize and by then it is all over. What makes the difference are your local first responders and neighbors. If you think you can rely on FEMA, well, just take a cue from what happened with Katrina.

    What is going to cream us now is our own progress. The dams are all nearly over-topping here, and so it is release the water or else have the dams wash away. Letting them wash away would be like the Jonestown flood below them.

    I just drove back from helping evac a family whose home will be underwater in 6 hours. The dam release is so massive that the San Jacinto river is rising 6 inches per hr.

    It’s always the water if you survive the wind. While the storm was over-hyped on the wind side, the forecast was pretty accurate for rain. So far, while lots of water damage and little incidents, nothing that we haven’t seen in other times – just more of it and no let-up.

    Going back out to help…

    • You just ran up some more rum credits when (if) this every dries out, bub

  2. Hi George.
    My condolences to those who are affected by Harvey.
    I know first hand what it is like to be in that situation. In 1965 I was 16 and my fathers house was flooded by hurricane Betsy in Arabi LA. In 1969 Camille ruined my honeymoon and almost postponed my wedding. In 2005 Katrina wiped out my house in Violet LA. and drowned my aunt Helen who was in that nursing home in St. Bernard LA. She was 91 years old and wheel chair bound. I now reside in rural Mississippi about 60 miles from the Gulf Coast and 300 foot elevation. I have lost everything twice in my life and know how these storms change your life’s path forever. It will take many years for Texas to recover!
    I can only wish all the victims well and donate to the Red Cross!!

    Praying for dryer weather in Texas!
    Rocket Mike

    • The Red Cross is a rip-off corporation whose members are highly paid if you’re going to donate donate to the Salvation Army they actually help people and the captains getting near minimum wage but they do get a residents to live in and a vehicle to drive

      • Do you have any idea how many people it takes to support the president of the Red Cross compared to the president and captains of the Salvation Army

    • Thanks for the reminder, Bryce. The Salvation Army it is. Anyone else who is interested, just search for “How do I donate to the Salvation Army?” and your options will come up. I haven’t seen anything specific about a campaign for Houston.

  3. I lived through hurricane Matthew and was on generator power for 11 days straight, but I prep for such and had no issues. Trees kept roads blocked for 4-6 days depending on location and alt routes. Some areas longer.

    New neighbors moved in a month before and I immediately advised they get the generator that came with the house serviced. (Dead battery). They did 1 week before the storm hit and made it through fine even with kin folks joining them.

    Once I got out I stopped at various hardware stores to get a feel for how people were coping.

    The # of people with no clue buying generators, but no gas cans or extension cords provided humor for the clerks. Most gas stations had no power either, so I don’t know what they were planning to run the generators on.

    A few weeks later many of these generators were listed on eBay and local equivalent at 20% of cost. Many never used.

    Don’t know what they are planning to do for the next storm.

  4. When I lived in Louisiana the locals always told me to go to where ever the weather service said the hurricane was going to reach landfall, as they never seemed to make it there in the end.

  5. I lived for 4.5 years at Edwards AFB in the Mojave (aka high) Desert. I loved it, but I also received USAF desert survival training upon my arrival, with yearly refresher training. Desert dwelling brings its own unique set of challenges – extreme heat, sun overexposure, dust storms, critters ranging from scary to downright deadly and a constant need for water, lots of it – so the scout motto to “be prepared” is definitely in play in that environment. But the general lack of rain and snow enables a more active lifestyle as one ‘matures.’ And rumor has it there’s gold in them thar hills around the Phoenix area.

  6. Mr. Ure, reporting from South Padre Island TX. My location is 1/2 block from the beach on the 3rd floor of a Condo. Right now the whole area has been like a ghost town since before Harvey started churning good. Local news was suggesting people get out of SPI because it was expected to be leveled. Some of the suggestions sent people to Corpus Christi and San Antonio. The weather we did receive was rain off and on for two days, one day of high winds (normal for this area) Lights flickered off and on for an hour the 2nd day.3rd day Sun came out and is still out.
    I wasn’t playing chicken with Harvey, its just some of the big ideas and suggestions by people in the media or Fema etc. just don’t always make good sense. Putting everyone on the highway headed right into the heart of the storm. Oh and people taking advantage of the situation by jacking up gas and food prices, motels. Now the people who ran from Harvey are now stuck in the places that was suggested they flee to. Just about every apartment condo and house on SPI is a short time rental for holidays spring break and snow birds. SPI should be full of people sitting out the storm, its cheaper then the motels.
    Or so it would seem to me.

  7. I was raised in the Florida Panhandle and can remember being without power for 2 weeks after Hurricane Eloise. No biggie, fished and crabbed the bayou when we ate everything from the freezer. I now live in rural Western New York. Sure I pay higher taxes than Florida, but I’m generally left alone, able to telecommute when necessary and can depend on my few neighbors. After seeing the events in Houston I think I’d rather face a blizzard than a hurricane; you can’t shovel water and I’ve always got firewood.

  8. Arizona? My neighbor took a big job in Phoenix. He hates it.
    He is a guy our vintage originally from Southern California. He can’t stand being trapped in his condo because of the heat. Never living in cold climes like up north being stuck indoors is a new adventure.and he hates it. Are you prepared to be a virtual prisioner like Ron?

    • The climate in Arizona is very diverse. The weather and vegetation in Payson is very different from that in the Phoenix area. Arizona has more climate zones than any other state.

      I’ve lived in Scottsdale for 30 years and never felt trapped in my house due to the heat. Yes, the heat can be brutal during the summer but you learn to do things differently. You don’t play tennis outdoors at noon in the middle of the summer. Life here is very different than the north shore of Long Island where I grew up. Would I go back there? No way.