At least one dead after Dallas area hit by 1-in-1,000-year flood

Photo for The Washington Post by Emil Lippe
The Trinity River flows through Dallas on Monday.

DALLAS – Streets and highways around Dallas remained waterlogged Monday afternoon after flash floods struck the Dallas-Fort Worth area overnight, leaving at least one person dead. Signs of flooding lingered even after the rain mostly cleared from the metroplex.

In Mesquite, southeast of Dallas, a body was recovered Monday afternoon from a vehicle in a creek. Elsewhere, authorities conducted water rescues and evacuated residents from flooded areas; cars remained abandoned, some parked on the sides of interstates, either flooded or damaged in crashes; numerous highway ramps and lanes were shut down. At the interchange of Interstates 30 and 45 and U.S. Highway 75 – a trouble spot on good days – flooding had traffic down to a trickle in one lane.

In some isolated areas, the rainfall totals would be considered a 1-in-1,000-year flood – a remarkable reversal given the dramatic drought that Dallas had faced for months. Several rainfall gauges recorded more than 10 inches. A record-breaking 3.01 inches of rain was recorded in one hour at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The downpour marked the latest such flood in the past few weeks across the United States. In one week alone, three 1-in-1,000-year rain events occurred, inundating St. Louis, eastern Kentucky and southeastern Illinois. The term, often considered controversial in part because it’s misunderstood, is used to describe a rainfall event that is expected once every 1,000 years, meaning it has just a 0.1% chance of happening in any given year – but such events can occur much more frequently.

Human-driven climate change has been found to increase the frequency of such high-precipitation events – a warmer atmosphere, capable of holding more moisture, can produce heavier rain. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report, the rate of extreme precipitation events that cause severe flooding is expected to increase in the future.

Several water rescues were conducted early Monday across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As of 1:30 p.m. local time, Dallas Fire-Rescue had responded to 195 high-water incidents, according to Jason Evans, a spokesperson with the city’s emergency management office.

In Mesquite, firefighters were at a bridge Monday afternoon where the water had receded enough to reveal a car in the creek below. One body was recovered from the vehicle, according to Mesquite Fire Chief Rusty Wilson. Wilson added that rescuers had been called to the bridge after the driver, a woman, became unresponsive while on a call with family members.

Photo for The Washington Post by Emil Lippe
The Trinity River flows at Trinity Overlook Park near downtown Dallas on Monday.

At Skyview Stables, a horse training facility east of Dallas in Forney, the water had rushed in suddenly overnight. The owner of the stables, Stephanie McKinsey, and head trainer, Michelle Long, are in Kentucky with three of their horses for the World’s Championship Horse Show.

They awoke Monday morning to dozens of texts. The other 26 horses at the stables in Texas were standing in 11 inches of water, and the rain wasn’t stopping. The road to the property is shut down, and only a groomer and McKinsey’s daughter are there.

“We have no one to help bail out,” Long said.

The flooding has seriously damaged their stables, washing away all their new hay and shavings. Skyview Stables had moved locations just three weeks ago.

“We spent all that money and now the dirt from the arena is in the pond,” Long said.

One rain gauge in Dallas County, where Dallas is located, tallied more than 14.9 inches of rain within a 12-hour period, nearly 50% of the rainfall recorded at that site this year. Such rates of precipitation are nearly impossible for soils – not to mention impervious paved surfaces – to absorb without runoff that can cause flash flooding.

A communications outage caused by a Verizon line problem prevented the National Weather Service from issuing warnings from the Fort Worth office, the NWS confirmed to The Washington Post, though the office said it was working closely with partner offices to stay on top of the flooding. Spokesperson Susan Buchanan said that while the issue was being fixed, “long- and short-range forecasts and warnings for the Dallas-Fort Worth area continue to go out uninterrupted, through service backup by our forecast offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Norman, Oklahoma.”

After the flooding rains move out of the Dallas area, they are expected to track east along Interstate 20 toward areas such as Shreveport, La. The National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center has forecast a moderate risk of excessive rainfall for northeastern Texas and northwestern Louisiana, with three to five inches of rain expected in the area and rates of two to three inches per hour possible.

More excessive rain is expected Tuesday, with the moderate risk for heavy rainfall spreading farther across northern Louisiana into parts of Alabama.

It was a case of extreme weather whiplash for the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Before Monday’s intense rainfall, the area was in the midst of a substantial drought. All of Dallas County has been experiencing at least extreme drought for the past three months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Dallas had dozens of days above 100 degrees and 67 days in a row without any rainfall, a streak that was finally broken Aug. 9. The drought was so bad that on the Fourth of July, local fire departments, short on trucks, urged residents to avoid shooting off fireworks. Now, in a shocking reversal, it is likely that this August will be Dallas’s wettest since 1899, the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore noted on Twitter, and fire departments are instead asking people to stay off the streets to avoid high water.

Cities across Texas experienced near-record-high temperatures and dryness last month, causing serious precipitation deficits. Even the heavy rainfall over parts of the state into Monday may not bring enough relief, the Weather Service warned.

The rainfall across Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma stems from an overlap of extreme moisture and a forceful triggering mechanism.

Over the weekend, an underwhelming tropical system moved ashore in northern Tamaulipas, Mexico, with relatively little fanfare. Its direct impacts were minimal, but it trucked ashore an air mass with deep tropical moisture. Precipitable water indexes – a measure of how much moisture is present in a column of air from the bottom to the top of the atmosphere – are approaching a remarkable three inches.

That’s the air now wafting north into thunderstorms and being converted into heavy downpours along a stationary front. The front is draped west to east near the Red River of Oklahoma toward the Arkansas-Louisiana border. A wave of low pressure that is forming along the front and propagating east will further enhance those downpours. Some locations will see a low-end tornado risk, too.