Category: Announcements

Introducing the Space City Weather Flood Scale

Posted by Eric Berger at 4:23 PM

Ever since Hurricane Harvey, a lot of people living in and around Houston become nervous at the mention of widespread, heavy rainfall. The mere suggestion of even minor flooding heightens tension. And after surviving Harvey, we certainly understand why.

In the months after Harvey, Matt and I got together to try and determine what, if anything, we could do to help ameliorate this situation. Eventually, Matt hit upon the idea of a “flood scale” that residents of the greater Houston area could use to calibrate their concerns about upcoming flood events. Over time, the scale evolved into a rating from Flood Stage 1 (street flooding) through Flood Stage 5 (Hurricane Harvey). Here’s what we came up with:

Space City Weather Flood Scale.

This scale is not officially sanctioned by any government organization. Nor are we seeking to usurp any authority from the National Weather Service—they command our highest respect in issuing flood watches and warnings. Rather, we felt there was a need for something like this, in advance of significant weather, to help our readers set expectations and manage their own anxieties. So we’re providing the scale as such a service. It remains a work in progress.

In truth, there are many, many ingredients that will determine the impact of a flood: the total amount of rain, intensity of hourly rainfall rates, how long the rains last, the preexisting saturation of soils, the time of year, and more. This scale attempts to incorporate all of those factors into the ranking the impact of a flooding event. It is not perfect, nor purely quantifiable, but is does represent our best attempt to determine what residents can expect.

So why are we introducing this scale now? Because we anticipate needing it for the coming Thursday through Saturday period. Absent a major change in the forecast models, we’ll begin to use the flood scale beginning in Tuesday morning’s post. For what its worth, our overall thinking hasn’t changed, we continue to see the potential for 3 to 10 inches of rain through Sunday morning for the Houston region.

As we get a little bit deeper into the new year, Matt and I are thrilled to announce that Reliant has returned to sponsor Space City Weather for all of 2019. For those keeping score at home, this means Reliant has been our partner since mid-2017—just before Hurricane Harvey—and we’re excited to have an old friend back for a new year. This represents a win-win-win partnership:

  • Space City Weather gets the support it needs to publish daily
  • Readers get a completely free site with absolutely no gimmicks
  • Reliant gets recognized for their ongoing support, and provides readers with information about their services and energy management solutions

What Matt and I really appreciate about this ad-free model is that we are under no pressure to deliver a set number of page views, or generate traffic just for the sake of clicks. When there’s not much to say or write about, we’re going to say so. And when there’s some serious weather threatening the area, we’ll write and cover the heck out of it. We’re never just going to write filler stories—we aim to reduce the clutter in your lives, rather than add to it.

Not much will change this year. As long-time readers know, we will (very) occasionally highlight an electricity, or home service or energy management solution that Reliant offers when it’s relevant for you, service that Reliant offers, and our site will feature deals from the company—right now, that deal is free weekend electricity and a Google Home Hub at no cost to you.

Reliant and its president Elizabeth Killinger want to support what we do, not get in the way of it. Reliant shares our mission of keeping readers informed and prepared, no matter what the weather brings. They’ve been a great partner for us over the last 18 months, and we’re excited to have them back with us for 2019.

We took advantage of a slow Sunday morning to move Space City Weather to a new server, which should load even faster than before, and which should allow us to weather any traffic spikes during major storms. We were able to make this significant investment thanks to the generosity of our readers during last month’s fundraiser, as well as Reliant’s ongoing support. Please, if you notice any problems, use the feedback form to let us know. (More server specs in a minute).

As for the New Year’s Eve forecast, it’s more or less on track. Above a small envelope of cool air at the surface, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is streaming into the atmosphere above the upper Texas coast. The net effect of this is going to be on-again, off-again, light to moderate rainfall on Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday morning. Most of the region should see 1 inch or less of rain, so we don’t anticipate any problems.

NOAA rain accumulation forecast for now through New Year’s Day. (Pivotal Weather)

Fortunately, the rainfall should end by or before noon on New Year’s Eve, and we could see partly sunny skies with highs in the low 60s later in the day. As for the countdown to midnight, we expect partially clearing skies, with temperatures around 50 degrees and light winds. All in all, this is fairly good weather for New Year’s Eve festivities, so enjoy the celebrations.

As for our new server, we were fortunate to have Lee Hutchinson (a friend, and co-worker of mine at Ars Technica) do all of the back-end work for us. According to Lee, here are the details about our new server:

Space City Weather is now running on its own dedicated server, with no co-tenants and no sharing of anything. The box is a quad-core Intel Xeon E3-1230 with 16GB of RAM and dual 480GB SSDs in a RAID1 mirror, connected to the Internet via a dedicated 1Gbps uplink. We have plenty of room to grow and should be reasonably future-proof for at least the next several years.

Thanks again to all of our readers who supported us, and shared our site in 2018. We promise to deliver more of the same next year, with a site re-design and flood scale coming in the near future.

A special announcement about our 2018 site sponsor

Posted by Eric Berger at 10:00 AM

After 2017 in Houston, which featured everything from the costliest hurricane to ever strike the United States to a rare December snow, we can hardly guess what the near year will bring. (Certainly, we can be relatively confident in heat and humidity). Whatever this way comes, be it snow, rain, or intense heat, we’d like you to know that Space City Weather will be here every step of the way.

And that is why I am so thrilled to announce today that our sponsor during last year’s hurricane season, Reliant, has stepped forward to support the site for all of 2018. The company, and its president Elizabeth Killinger, believe strongly in the value we bring to to the Houston community, and they wanted to support our efforts. That means two important things for readers of Space City Weather.

One, we will have no outside advertising on the site. None. No auto-play videos. No pop-ups. Just a clean interface. This should make for lightning fast load times. Perhaps most importantly, it means we do not have to generate clicks for the sake of clicks. We don’t need to clickbait you because the value of our site isn’t determined by traffic. So if there’s not much to say about a 95-degree day in August, we won’t waste your time (or ours) by saying much.

Two, neither Matt nor I has much of a background in business or marketing. We’re scientists. We’re meteorologists. We’re writers. We just want to inform, entertain, and help you make decisions about weather and your lives. To that extent, having Reliant sponsor the site for all of this year means we can focus on weather, and pay with bills, with a minimum of distraction.

Finally, let me just say that I’m personally pleased that Reliant is back. Their very name is part of the ethos of this site. We aspire to provide a source of reliable information about weather in the greater Houston area. They’re a reliable provider of electricity and home services to the same market. It’s a great match for the new year.