October 19, 2018

Texas' Lake Travis Approaches Record Levels as Heavy Rain Continues

It's been pretty calm across most of the United States for the past week, a far cry from what we've experienced for...well, the entire year up until now. Hurricane Michael is out of the picture, the raging Santa Ana winds in southern California have calmed down, and the rest of us only see the occasional passing shower, if that. The only active weather in the United States right now is a persistent slog of heavy rain over Texas, and the persistent slog of rain for days on end is leading to some pretty big flooding problems.

Parts of Texas have recorded more than a foot of rain over the past week. The heaviest rains have fallen in the central part of the state. Much of that rain fell in a short period of time, and much of it fell across the Colorado River watershed.

The surge of water into the Colorado River led to a significant rise in Lake Travis, northwest of Austin that's created by the Mansfield Dam. Water levels in the lake have exceeded major flood stage, and the pool is just six feet shy of its record high of 710 feet. The excess water in Lake Travis is flooding surrounding communities. Water levels are so high that officials may have to open all eight flood gates on the dam, something they've never had to do before.

The National Weather Service has flood characterizations for every major waterway in the country, detailing the kind of flooding you can expect once water levels reach a certain point. Here are the characterizations for flooding on Lake Travis:

714 Flow reaches and goes uncontrolled over the emergency spillway over Mansfield Dam at Lake Travis. Hundreds of homes around Lake Travis flood, many with water well over their roofs or in the second floor level.
710 Hundreds of homes around Lake Travis at Graveyard Point at Lakeway flood with water well over some roofs and into the second floor of lower homes.
705 Disastrous residential flooding of hundreds of homes occurs around Lake Travis at Graveyard Point at Lakeway, many with water over their roofs in up to 17 feet of water.
700 Many homes flood at Graveyard Point at Lakeway on Lake Travis, some with water to their roofs in up to twelve feet of water.
695 Lowest temporary and mobile homes in Graveyard Point at Lakeway on Lake Travis have up to seven feet of water in them.
691 The lowest permanent homes at Graveyard Point at Lakeway on Lake Travis flood. Several temporary homes are in several feet of water.
688 Lowest temporary and mobile homes at Graveyard Point at Lakeway on Lake Travis flood.
685 The lowest temporary and mobile homes at Lakeway at Graveyard Point on Lake Travis are threatened.

The lake is just a few inches shy of the level at which "disastrous residential flooding" is possible, and any further rise in water levels will have a significant impact on surrounding communities.

The region isn't hurting for rain anymore. Drought conditions that existed across large parts of Texas for the past year vanished with the onset of heavy rains over the past month. Only small pockets of drought conditions remain over parts of Texas that largely avoided the recent rains.

Heavy rain will continue across parts of the southern Plains through Saturday, and the greatest chances for heavy rain over the next week will be confined to southern Texas and the Gulf Coast.


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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