Historic flash and river flooding occurred on Saturday, May 23rd and into Sunday, May 24th across portions of South-Central Texas. The worst rivers impacted by far were the Blanco and San Marcos Rivers that ran through Wimberley and San Marcos, TX that resulted in severe impacts to life and property. Additional flash flooding occurred on Memorial Day, May 25th, affecting large areas of Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties. Below is an overview of the May 23-24 event from the weather set-up, the National Weather Service product and warning timeline, satellite and radar videos, river hydrographs, and pictures. You can jump between the sections by clicking on them below. Please refer back to this page as it will be updated with additional information.
A persistent weather pattern from the beginning of May began to set the stage for a more concentrated and more impactful flash and river flooding event. May 2015 will go down in history as one of the wettest months across the state of Texas (Figure 1). For the first two to three weeks of the month, most locations across south-central received well-above normal rainfall that saturated the soils. By the time Memorial weekend arrived, much of the region was at least 2-4 inches (100-300%) above normal. These wet antecedent conditions meant that any new rain and especially heavy rain would become run-off directly into rivers, streams, and flash flood prone areas. Ingredients came together during the memorial weekend for several rounds of very heavy rain and severe thunderstorms to develop. Widespread 6-8 inches fell across Bandera, Kerr, Kendall, Blanco and far west portions of Comal and Hays counties with a max of 10 to 13 inches of rain across southern Blanco and extreme NE Kendall counties. Most of this rain fell from Saturday afternoon into the overnight hours of early Sunday morning, leading to a rapid rise in the Blanco and San Marcos Rivers (Figure 2). The Blanco River at Wimberley rose from near 5 feet at 9pm to near 41 feet by 1am. One staggering statistic is that the river rose 5 ft every 15 minutes from 10:45pm to 11:45pm. This equates to a 20ft rise along the river within a one hour time frame. The river gauge hydrograph for Wimberley can be seen in Figure 3 below depicting this rapid rise. Numerous high water rescues occurred throughout the late evening and morning hours along the banks of the Blanco and eventually the San Marcos Rivers. Active search and rescue efforts remain underway with several missing. To date, 11 fatalities have been confirmed.
Figure 1: May 2015 rainfall totals.
Figure 2: Widepsread 6-8 inches of rainfall with local 9 to 11 inches and a maximum of 12-13 inches fell in the head waters of the Blanco River Basin over 4-6 hours.
Figure 3a: Hydrograph for Blanco River at Wimberley, TX. Note the extreme rapid rise of river levels given the high rainfall amounts and rates in the Blanco River Basin headwaters from Figure 2. The river went from below flood stage to major flood stage in 45 minutes. A Flash Flood Emergency Warning was issued for Wimberley at 11:24pm with several flash flood warnings issued at 4:13pm, 8:23pm and again at 11:13pm.
Figure 3b: Hydrograph for San Marcos River near San Marcos, TX. Note the similar rapid rise of river levels compared to the Wimberley gauge (Figure 3a). The heavy rains falling upstream created a river surge downstream into the city of San Marcos. The initial flash flood warning for this area was issued at 11:24PM and an upgrade to a Flash Flood Emergency was issued for San Marcos at 1:25am. The river surge arrived in San Marcos just before 3:00am. Several upstream warnings were issued prior this time. The river crested at 43.08 feet at 5:15am on the 24th. The significant impacts due to this river warranted a re-issuance of the Flash Flood Emergency at 8:47am when the river had already receded to 36.78 feet. An NWS employee that lives nearby this gauge took a picture of the river from the viewpoint of the gauge at 9:45am (see below).
The saturated grounds from the previous above-normal rainfall through first couple of weeks of May set the stage for rapid run-off to occur if a concentrated heavy rainfall event was to occur. The ingredients came together on Saturday, May 23rd across the Hill Country with ample moisture, atmosphere instability, and lift from a strong weather disturbance across the region (Figure 4). In the low-levels, southeast winds off the Gulf of Mexico brought in highly anomalous moist air with perceptible water amounts (PWATs) of 1.83" observed in Del Rio, TX from the 7am weather balloon Saturday morning (Figure 5). Of significant note is that this value, according to SPC's sounding climatology, sets a new daily record maximum. In addition, the weather balloon sounding from Corpus Christi Saturday morning sampled 2.02" PWATs which also was near the daily record high. This ample moisture combined with afternoon heating that resulted in 1000-2000 J/kg of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE). Instability waned slightly into the evening but still remained adequate as moderately strong mid and upper level winds aided in impressive divergence over the region (Figure 6). This divergence of air aloft allowed for storms to continually produce heavy rainfall over the same areas.
Figure 4: 500 mb chart for 5/24 at 00z (May 23 7pm). Mid-level Atmospheric pattern on May 23rd at 7pm. Note the little ripples in the lines over Texas. These ripples can indicated enhanced areas of lift and when combined with cyclonicly-curved winds, can result in supportive environment for longer lived storms.
Figure 5: SPC Sounding chart from KDRT 05/23 12Z. Note the PW value of 1.83" taken from the weather balloon sampling in Del Rio, Texas from Saturday morning. CAPE values were already high that morning ahead of developing storms and indicated more storms would be likely that afternoon. This instability in combination with modest shear values allowed for organized storms to develop.
Figure 6: 300mb winds and divergence outlined in yellow. Note the sharp air flow direction change across northern Mexico with a potent long wave trough. This strong diffluence allowed for strong horizontal divergence that supported stronger and long-lived updrafts that tapped into the ample moisture in place over Texas. Note the high contouring of yellow outlines across south central Texas.
Figure 7: Water Vapor Image for 7:15pm on Saturday, May 23rd. Note the significant thunderstorm activity over south-central Texas that is producing heavy rainfall.
A Flash Flood Watch was issued for the entire area early Saturday morning at 3:12am through 7pm Sunday evening given the favorable set up for heavy rainfall across the already soaked region. Several informational graphics were posted to Twitter, Facebook, and sent to Emergency Managers/Partners via email (Figure 8 & 9) indicating very high confidence in heavy rainfall and high confidence in both river and flash flooding.
Figure 8: Flash Flood Watch issued at 3:12am Figure 9: Rainfall Totals Graphic posted near 5am
This set-up was also highlighted in the Saturday morning's Area Forecast Discussion, reinforced in the afternoon update, and in the Hazadous Weather Outloolk (Figures 10, 11, & 12).
Figure 10: Saturday morning discussion highlighing heavy rain and flash/river flooding threat. Issued at 3:14am
Figure 11: Saturday Afternoon Area Forecast Discussion reinforcing the river and flash flood threat. Issued at 2:26pm
Figure 12: Saturday Morning Hazadous Weather Outlook. issued at 4:53am
Below is the Twitter (@NWSSanAntonio) information timeline* on 5/23 to 5/24:
* This is not a complete twitter timeline of all tweets but the most important highlighting the river flooding threat have been posted below:
Flash Flood Warning for Blanco Highlighting Flash/River Flooding Highlighting camping areas- DANGER
Turn Around, Don't Drown FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY Rainfall Totals Map - More Falling!
Record Flood Now Forecast Record/Historic Flooding Ongoing 2nd FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY
Catastrophic Flooding Ongoing Record and Life threatening Flooding Occuring
Record Flooding near Kyle Flood wave moving Downstream Catastrophic Flooding Continues
Interstate 35 SB is closed Interstate-35 SB & NW Closed Hydrograph of Blanco at San Marcos
River Forecast Heights
1) Visible Satellite Loop from 5/23 2) Infrared Satellite Loop from 5/23
3) Radar Loop from 7pm 5/22 through 7pm 5/23 4) Radar Loop from 7pm 5/23 through 7pm 5/24
Figure 13: Dual-Polarization Radar Storm total Rainfall Estimates. Note the 9-11 inches with Max nearing 13" in the dark red to White area along the Blanco/Kendall County Line