Chambers County Risks
The Chambers County Risk Assessment is a detailed study of the hazards most likely to impact Chambers County. The top thirteen threats and risks - dangerous events such as winter storms, floods, and terrorist attacks - were analyzed and ranked here according to the likelihood of them occurring.
Flooding occurs in many forms, from naturally occurring to human-induced. Common to all flooding is the accumulation of too much water in too little time in too small a place. Chambers County has experienced bouts of minor-to-catastrophic flooding over the past 20 years, culminating with the near 60” rainfall induced floods from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Because most of Chambers County is coastal plain and is essentially the drainage basin for a number of bayous and rivers, flooding is likely to remain as one of our top threats and risk for the foreseeable future.
Tropical cyclones which reach a sustained wind speed of 39 mph are named and called tropical storms. When the sustained wind speed in a tropical storm reaches 74 mph, it is then called a hurricane. Chambers County, Texas is in the upper 1/3 of the Texas Gulf Coast and averages a tropical cyclone impact every 5-7 years (a historical average, NOT a prediction!). These are some of the most destructive storms on earth and can cause catastrophic damages over a wide swath of hundreds of miles. From Hurricane Rita in 2005 – Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Chambers County has suffered repeatedly from the wrath of tropical cyclones.
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent windstorms – even weak ones can cause significant damage and fatalities. A tornado is defined as a rotating column of air, in contact with the surface, pendant from a cumuliform cloud, and often visible as a funnel cloud and/or circulating debris/dust at the ground. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, 17 tornadic events were reported in Chambers County from January 2000 through November 2018, all of which were rated EF1 and under.
Drought is defined as a prolonged period of abnormally dry weather, where the lack of sufficient precipitation causes a serious hydrologic imbalance with economic and/or social consequences. Chambers County is primarily impacted by drought relating to sustained periods of regional lack of rainfall. We are dependent upon surface waters (lakes, bayous and reservoirs) for the potable and irrigation water we need. Drought also greatly impacts land throughout the county that is utilized as cropland or pasture. For information on current drought conditions, visit the Keetch-Byram Drought Index webpage.
5. Severe Summer Weather
Severe summer weather is classified as thunderstorms, hail, lightning, and damaging wind. Each of these hazards has its own severity measure and often all four occur in one storm system, causing much more damage than each would have alone. According to the NOAA National Climactic Data Center’s Storm Events Database, there were over 87 hail, strong/high/thunderstorm wind, and lightning events for Chambers County from January 2000 to November 2018.
6. Extreme Heat
Extreme heat events, or heat waves, are prolonged periods of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity. From 2000-2018, there were 4 major heatwave events that impacted Chambers County. Nation-wide, the average number of heat related deaths per year exceeds all other weather-related fatalities. The impact of extreme heat on systemic infrastructure like the power grid, roads, agriculture and the health care system can be severe.
7. Utility/Energy Interruptions or Failures
These kinds of interruptions may involve electrical power, natural gas, public water and communications systems. These systems are vulnerable to natural hazards, mechanical-related failures and intentional disruptions. Chambers County has experienced numerous interruptions and failures of various kinds. Most of the longest durations interruptions result from tropical cyclones or other severe weather events. Almost all of the utility systems in Chambers County are privately owned and outside of the control or responsibility of city or county government.
8. Infectious Diseases
Infectious diseases are illnesses caused by the entrance into the body of harmful microbial organisms which grow and multiply. The diseases of most concern to the health and welfare of communities are those that are easily communicable between people. Communicable diseases are caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites and are transmitted from an infected person/animal and/or contaminated food or water source to another person or animal. Chambers County is susceptible to many common infectious diseases, such as seasonal flu, as well as diseases that are newly emerged or re-emerging, such as H5N1 Influenza (avian flu) and West Nile Virus.
9. Hazardous Materials Incidents
These incidents are the release of a hazardous material from its container or package in a sufficient concentration to pose a threat. Hazardous materials may be explosive, flammable, corrosive, poisonous, or radioactive, as well as solid, liquid or gaseous form. Chambers County has several large refinery facilities, numerous large chemical sites, numerous oil wells with storage tanks, and thousands of miles of underground pipelines. A transportation incident on I-10, a huge shipping corridor which transects Chambers County, is the most likely and common haz mat release scenario.
10. Terrorist Incident
CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, RADIOLOGICAL, NUCLEAR OR EXPLOSIVE (CBRNE)
is defined as a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or any segment, to intimidate or coerce a government, the population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. A terrorist act can be by a group such as a State-Sponsored team, or could be perpetrated by a Lone Wolf: defined by DHS as an individual motivated by extremist ideology to commit acts of criminal violence independent of any larger terrorist organization. In recent years, the United States has certainly seen an emerging threat from lone wolf terrorists.
A CBRNE event is one caused by the introduction of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or Explosive material utilized as a weapon. Chambers County has never been the victim of a direct terrorist attack, yet has a history of terrorist activity. This, along with the difficulties in predicting which U.S. cities are future targets and the potential impact of a terrorist attack on the county’s population, property and economy, makes terrorism more of a “wild card” than other hazards and therefore more difficult to prioritize.
Chambers County IS a “target rich” environment due to its large petrochemical industry, numerous rail lines, massive underground pipeline corridors and Interstate 10.
11. Severe Winter Weather
Severe winter weather is classified as snow, ice and extremely cold conditions. Winter storms are events in which the dominant forms of precipitation occur only at cold temperatures. Chambers County has had several significant to severe winter weather events since 2000 including heavy snow accumulation and several severe icing events which closed surface streets and Interstate 10.
Cyber-terrorism is the malicious attempt to damage or disrupt a computer network or system. A sharp increase in the number of cyber incidents involving government and corporate computer networks has caused the United States to launch initiatives to combat cyber threats, including in Chambers County. Many of the initiatives have focused on protecting critical infrastructure command and control systems (SCADA), preventing access to sensitive government information, reducing unauthorized access to utility control systems, and thwarting acts of fraud and theft targeting business financial systems.
13. Civil Disturbance
A civil disturbance is a planned or random uproar or disturbance of ordinary community life by persons choosing to ignore laws, often to bring attention to a cause, concern, or agenda. Chambers County has seen few types of civil disturbances through the years, but with the unrest that spills out of adjacent metro areas, is has risen to a level where we must acknowledge the potential.