Eleanor Dearman, El Paso Times
Published 3:10 p.m. MT June 5, 2020 | Updated 3:14 p.m. MT June 5, 2020
AccuWeather meteorologists expect the system to develop into Tropical Storm Cristobal later this week.
Tropical Storm Cristobal could bring "a tremendous amount of rainfall" and potential flooding to East Texas, prompting state leaders to prepare as it approaches.
Texas is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. But this year's hurricane season, when coupled with the COVID-19 health crisis, presents unique challenges.
"In typical Texas fashion, we are dealing with multiple challenges at one particular time," Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday as he provided an update on Tropical Storm Cristobal.
Abbott spoke to journalists from a Texas Division of Emergency Management alternate state operations center in an Austin hotel. It was set up due to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for more social distancing among employees.
More: Cristobal expected to bring heavy rain, storm surge, tropical-storm-force winds to Gulf Coast this weekend
The governor provided an update on Cristobal's most likely course and how that path impacts Texas. The storm could cross the Gulf Coast and hit Louisiana, Abbott said.
Gov. Greg Abbott on June 5, 2020, provided an update on Tropical Depression Cristobal, which was upgraded to a tropical storm. (Photo: Eleanor Dearman)
The governor warned the storm could impact deep East Texas.
"You can also see ... even along this most highly probable course, that it will be affecting ... wide swaths of East Texas, providing a tremendous amount of rainfall, as well as potential flooding in East Texas, all the way from the northern reaches of East Texas, all the way into the Gulf Coast, stretching potentially as far west as Dallas," he said.
"Our goal is to deal with what is likely going to be a very heavy rain event in various regions of East Texas, and we also want to make sure that we're preparing for potential high wind, especially in the Southeast Texas region," Abbott said.
He said landfall is expected Sunday.
Abbott cautioned during the afternoon news conference that the storm's predicted path was based on the forecast at the time. A concern is that as the storm crosses the Gulf, if its trajectory moves west, Texas could become a greater focal point.
Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd echoed that point.
"As Cristobal appears to have ... its eyes on Louisiana, Texans will need to keep their eyes turned to the Gulf right now. Any wobble of this storm could have more of an impact on the state of Texas," Kidd said.
Abbott noted that in Houston "right now, at worst," a minimal rain event was expected. The funeral for George Floyd, a black man whose police-related death in Minneapolis sparked protests across the world, is scheduled to take place in Houston early next week.
Before the news conference, Abbott was briefed by state leaders on response preparedness.
Abbott said National Guard troops have been made available to deal with potential flooding and the Texas Department of Public Safety is providing resources to help with search and rescue operations. Other available state resources include a game warden strike force from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"We've dealt with countless tropical storms ... and hurricanes frequently," Abbott said. "This situation is different from other types of storms we've dealt with in the past, because this is the first one, that I'm aware of, where we had to deal with a storm while at the same time deal with a pandemic."
Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, June 5, 2020, provided an update on Tropical Depression Cristobal, which was upgraded to a tropical storm. (Photo: Eleanor Dearman)
More caution is needed, including at nursing homes, which have been hot spots for the coronavirus.
Abbott said the state has strategies in place in case people in nursing homes must be moved, including separating those who test positive for the virus from those who do not have it.
He encouraged local officials to adopt evacuation strategies that take into account COVID-19.
One example Abbott provided is using more vehicles for evacuations to allow for more spacing between people. Another option could be to use hotels for those who are displaced instead of convention center-type settings, where many people would congregate.
Communication will be "extremely critical" this hurricane season because of the coronavirus, Kidd said. He encouraged families to include things like masks and hand sanitizer in their evacuation kits.
Abbott said he's encouraging residents in deep East Texas near the Sabine River to prepare for possible evacuation due to flooding, which could occur with short notice.
"As we respond to this tropical storm, we must respond in ways that continue to contain the spread of COVID-19," Abbott said.
Eleanor Dearman may be reached at 361-244-0047; email@example.com; @EllyDearman on Twitter.
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