For three years, ending in the spring of 2007, the state of Texas experienced a terrible drought, the effects of which were felt throughout the state. In 2006, two million acres burned in wildfires. That same year, the drought caused $4.1 billion losses in state agriculture [Source: Time]. When a large storm system settled over the state in late May of 2007 and began to unleash rain, many Texans rejoiced that the drought was over. But then the rain continued. And continued. For 45 days, it didn't stop.
The record rainfall created rampant flooding and devastation in many parts of the state. All of the state's water basins filled to capacity, and many rivers and reservoirs flooded. The governor declared disaster conditions in 37 counties and dispatched the Texas National Guard. President Bush declared 17 counties federal disaster areas and dispensed $3.8 million in federal aid to house, feed and clothe residents as they repaired their homes and recovered belongings. Texas launched the largest search-and-rescue operation in the state's history. Hundreds of vehicles, National Guard troops, helicopters, boats and professional search-and-rescue workers (some from other states) scoured for survivors. At least 13 people died -- most of them drowned.
Some people compared the damage to that from Hurricane Rita. Ninety mile-per-hour winds struck Seminole, Texas. In parts of the state, trucks and trains were turned over. Mobile homes, bridges, entire front yards and small shops washed away. Businesses lost their inventories, and city infrastructure suffered significant damage. Many communities were evacuated, while hundreds of homes were completely submerged in water. People took to the nearest high ground they could find, scrambling onto roofs, trees and the tops of cars or into boats.
For many parts of the state, it was the worst weather in half a century. In some areas, eight inches of rain fell in an hour [Source: NPR]. In Marble Falls, northwest of Austin, what's called a rain bomb fell, dropping an estimated 18 inches of rain in three hours. A creek that was normally a few feet across exploded into a 100-foot-wide raging river. Officials raised concerns about contaminated water as well as surly fire ants and snakes that were flushed out of their homes.
Despite the devastation, the drought problem was solved. Water rationing ended. Boats that had been moored on dry lake beds now floated on lakes filled to the brim. Nutrient-rich waters and blooming vegetation began to provide a hardy supply of plankton for recovering fish populations. Troublesome algae that thrived in low-water conditions started to decline. Finally, ranchers and farmers rejoiced as their pastures soaked in much-needed water.
After more than 40 days of rain, the scene seemed like something out of a disaster movie. What could cause such terrible storms to persist for more than a month and a half? Is this an isolated event or a sign of things to come? We'll consider these questions and look at other recent extreme weather events on the next page.