EarthView–Rain-Swollen Brazos River Floods Suburban Houston

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This week’s Earthview is of the Brazos River Flood...

EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish!

Image shows side-by-side satellite views of the Brazos River Flooding
Shortwave infrared and red bands on Landsat 8's Operational Land Imager (OLI) sensor reveal the Brazos River's dramatic flooding extent on May 28, 2016.

The EarthView: Rain-Swollen Brazos River Floods Suburban Houston


Heavy rains that began falling during Memorial Day weekend in late May 2016 pushed the Brazos River, 30 miles southwest of Houston, Texas, toward a near-record flooding stage that hasn't been seen since 1913, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Shortwave infrared and red bands on Landsat 8's Operational Land Imager (OLI) sensor reveal the river's dramatic flooding extent on May 28, compared to two months earlier, on March 25, when the Brazos ran much more sedately past the nation's fourth most-populous city. Just two years earlier, in 2014, the 840-mile-long river snaking through the center of Texas had gone dry in places because of drought conditions, the NWS said.

As of June 1, more than 120 high-water boat rescues from buildings and cars had been reported near Houston by Fort Bend County first responders. The International Charter “Space and Major Disasters,” of which USGS and EROS are members, was activated May 31 to provide Texas Emergency Management rapid access to Landsat and other satellite data for assessing the extent of damage and helping with disaster response.

With the rain expected to continue, future Landsat acquisitions will be important for that response. After almost 20 inches had fallen over parts of Texas since late May, NWS forecasters predicted up to 10 additional inches of precipitation by June 3, which would exacerbate flooding conditions along the flat, low-lying landscape of suburban Houston.

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