(L - R) Dr, Felipe Adrian Vazquez, director of SMN; Bill Proenza, regional director NWS Southern Region; and, Dr. Michel Rosengaus, director of Meteorological Services for SMN at a briefing in the Regional Operations Center( Photo: SRH Hq.)
(July 14, 2010) - Three months ago, Dr. Felipe Adrian Vazquez, director of Mexico's Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (SMN), visited the National Weather Service Southern Region Headquarters, Weather Forecast Office and the West Gulf River Forecast Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The purpose of the visit was clear.
"In addition to providing our guests with a detailed overview of our operations and services, our primary goal was to seek ways to improve collaboration and the exchange of information between our agencies," said Bill Proenza, regional director of the National Weather Service Southern Region. "Timely sharing of meteorological and hydrological data is critical to our protection of life missions - on both sides of the border."
Perhaps sooner than anyone had anticipated, that strong spirit of cooperation was to be tested on the evening of June 30 as Hurricane Alex slammed into the northeastern Mexico and south Texas coasts.
Hurricane Alex came ashore about 110 miles south of the border as a strong Category 2 hurricane. In Mexico, heavy rainfall sent thousands scurrying to shelters as floodwaters flowed through the port city of Matamoros. Further inland, drenching rain caused rivers to overflow their banks in Monterrey, killing at least two people and forcing thousands more to evacuate from their homes. On the Texas side of the border, rainfall also caused extensive flooding, road closures and widespread power outages. Two deaths were reported in San Patricio County, near Corpus Christi.
The night before landfall, the West Gulf River Forecast Center received a request for assistance from Director Vazquez and from the director of Mexico's National Water Commission (CONAGUA). In response, the forecast center quickly began providing contingency river forecast information for the Lower Rio Grande River.
Flow and stage forecasts were created based on anticipated rainfall and assumed reservoir discharges into the Lower Rio Grande. The contingency forecasts were also used by the International Boundary and Water Commission and its Mexican counterpart, the Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas, to assist in decisions on any needed diversions of water into the various floodways in the United States and Mexico. The close coordination between the National Weather Service, the International Boundary and Water Commission and Mexico continued throughout the event.
A week after Alex made landfall, rainfall from Tropical Depression Two brought additional accumulations to northern Mexico and south Texas. The rainfall and runoff into upstream reservoirs forced even more flood releases -- adding to major flood conditions along the Lower Rio Grande.
The contingency forecasts were valuable to emergency responders responsible for making life and death decisions before, during and after the storm's assault. Hurricane Alex was not the first and will not be the last storm to roar through the Texas/Mexico border region. But continued and improved collaboration and coordination between the National Weather Service Southern Region, West Gulf River Forecast Center and their colleagues across the border - is a proven recipe for saving lives.
Hurricane Alex on June 30, 2010 (Photo: NOAA)