Nicholas strengthened to a hurricane Monday night as it approached the Texas coast, with 75 mph winds and threatening to bring up to 18 inches of rain to parts of the state.
Nicholas was a week Category 1 hurricane. The center of the storm was forecast to make landfall on the Texas coast “in a few hours,” the National Hurricane Center said at 10 p.m.
The storm was around 45 miles southwest of Freeport, which is south along the coast from Galveston, and was moving north-northeast at 10 mph, forecasters said.
In Houston, where a large number of flights had already been canceled, officials urged everyone to be off the streets by nightfall.
Pop star Harry Styles postponed Monday night’s planned concert at Houston’s Toyota Center, which Mayor Sylvester Turner said underscored the gravity of the storm. Houston’s school district canceled classes for Tuesday because of weather.
“Safety must take priority, so please go home and be safe,” Styles tweeted about the concert.
The storm was already soaking parts of Texas as it approached. Video showed flooding in Matagorda, and Bay City recorded a 59-mph gust Monday night, forecasters said.
More than 80,000 customers were without power early Tuesday, according to Utility company AEP and CenterPoint Energy.
A hurricane warning was in place from Port O’Connor to Freeport, and a hurricane watch stretched from Freeport north to San Luis Pass, the hurricane center said.
Tropical storm warnings were in place from north of Port Aransas to Port O’Connor and from around Freeport to the Louisiana border. Storm surge warnings covered a stretch from Port Aransas to Louisiana.
Regardless of strength at landfall, the expected impacts won’t change — the greatest of all being significant flash flooding.
Rainfall rates could be 3 to 4 inches per hour under the heaviest rain bands. Infrastructure has a tough time dealing with such intense rainfall rates, likely leading to significant flash flooding especially in urban areas.
Officials urged people to never drive through floodwaters, especially at night, which is often a cause of drownings following storms.
Ahead of landfall, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency declaration for 17 counties in the storm’s path.
“Texans throughout the Gulf Coast should prepare now for the impact of Tropical Storm Nicholas, which is expected to bring severe rain and flooding to these communities,” Abbott said in a press release.
Turner, the Houston mayor, said rain posed the biggest threat to the city and requested that motorists be off the roadways by nightfall.
Turner advised anyone driving to turn around instead of driving through high water or past a street barricade. “They’re there for your protection,” he said.
United and Southwest Airlines canceled all flights out of Corpus Christi International Airport for 24 hours due to “deteriorating weather conditions,” a city spokesperson said in a press release.
The flood threat then shifts into Louisiana on Tuesday and Wednesday, including for areas still cleaning up from Hurricane Ida.
Storm total rainfall through midweek could be extreme in some cases. For the middle and upper Texas coast, 6 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches possible, the hurricane center said. Across the rest of coastal Texas into southwest Louisiana, totals could be 4 to 8 inches with locally higher amounts.
Life-threatening storm surge will also be possible for parts of the immediate Texas coast, with a maximum of 3-5 feet possible.
When Nicholas was named Sunday, it became the 14th named storm of the 2021 season, matching the climatological average number of named storms per season.
Only four other years in the satellite era (back to 1966) have had 14 storms by Sept. 12 and those were 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.
Nicholas will be the eighth storm to make landfall on the United States so far this year.
Kathryn Prociv is a senior meteorologist and producer for NBC News.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.