The driver of a van attempts to cross a flooded Holbrook Road near Salado Creek on Monday. Bystander Brad Wier snapped the photo before helping a father and his three daughters get their van towed to safety.
The driver of a van attempts to cross a flooded Holbrook Road near Salado Creek on Monday. Bystander Brad Wier snapped the photo before helping a father and his three daughters get their van towed to safety. Credit: Courtesy / Brad Wier

After waking Sunday morning to heavy rains, Brad Wier decided to drive down to Salado Creek to see the flooding for himself.

He had no idea his visit to the creek would end in an impromptu rescue.

At about 9 a.m., Wier, a water conservation consultant for the San Antonio Water System, headed to spot on Salado Creek where Holbrook Road crosses under Rittiman Road on the East Side. The creek was one of many that flooded Sunday when 2.25 inches of rain was recorded at the San Antonio International Airport.

Wier snapped a couple of photos of the rising water while waiting behind a barricade signaling a closed road. As he watched, a van drove around the barricade and straight into the flooded road, where it pulled to a stop.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a terrible place to stop,’” Wier told the Rivard Report on Monday.

Inside the van was a father and his three young daughters (Wier guessed the oldest was about 12 years old). They rolled down the windows and waved for help.

Wier waded into the flooded street to help the father, who was pulling his girls out of the car. When he opened the van’s door, water gushed in, Wier said.

“It was building up pretty fast,” he said. “It was roaring.”

With one girl in the driver’s seat to steer, Wier and the father tried to push the van. It wouldn’t budge in the water that by then had risen to about 3 feet deep, with a couple displaced snakes swimming on the surface, Wier said.

For a moment, Wier was afraid the van would start to drift downstream with the girl still inside, so he went back to his vehicle to get his kayak straps in hopes of towing it out.

Fortunately, a neighbor from the Holbrook Road area arrived in his dually pickup truck. Using the kayak straps, the neighbor and Wier were able to tow the van to high ground.

It was a good ending for a situation that’s all too common in Central Texas, where drivers often are caught in flash floods inundating roads. Local emergency officials have stressed the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” message in social media posts and press releases during the past few days, but that hasn’t stopped people from ignoring the warnings.

In San Antonio, 32 streets remained closed from flooding as of about 3 p.m. Monday, the City’s website stated.

Between 7 a.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday, most of the county received at least 1 inch of rain with some areas getting 2 to 4 inches, according to National Weather Service data.

All this rain is the result of a clash between air masses, National Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Huffman explained.

Since last week, warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico has encountered a cold front sliding across West Texas, pushed by upper level disturbance coming out of the Rocky Mountains, Huffman said.

The disturbance “acts like an arm in a bathtub full of water” in pushing the cold front into the warm Gulf air, she said.

“It kind of came in at a weird angle so areas west of San Antonio saw rain before us,” she said.

Rainfall totals in parts of Bexar County over the last two days have mostly been in the 2- to 3-inch range, though more than 7 inches fell the Elmendorf area, according to weather data.

At Elmendorf, the San Antonio River’s level has swelled to more than 40 feet from a height of 17 feet Sunday morning, according to river gauge data.

While most of the heavy storms have shifted south of San Antonio, forecasters still are predicting continued rain during the next few days.

This precipitation is making up for a drought deficit that was affecting the region over the past few months. The weather station at the San Antonio International Airport has recorded 10.48 inches so far this month, 9.51 inches more than normal.

That’s brought the yearly total so far up to 24.22 inches, ahead of the average amount 21.91 inches.

The rain might soon bring an end to drought restrictions as it replenishes the Edwards Aquifer. Since June, San Antonio has been under Stage 2 restrictions, which limit outdoor watering to once per week.

During the past week, the level of the aquifer measured at the J-17 well at Fort Sam Houston has gone from 642 feet above sea level a week ago to nearly 660 feet so far today, an 18-foot rise.

City officials can declare an end to Stage 2 drought restrictions once average levels of the J-17 well stay above 650 feet and an end to Stage 1 restrictions if the average stays above 660 feet.

“It’s going to keep going up for a few days, with all this rain we’re having,” said Jim Winterle, Edwards Aquifer Authority director of modeling and data. “That should get the average over 660 [feet].”

In times of drought, the Edwards Aquifer Authority imposes pumping restrictions on the aquifer, an underground limestone rock layer that holds the region’s most important water source. Like the City, the authority also organizes its cutbacks by severity, from Stage 1 to Stage 4, with Stage 4 as the most severe.

The authority uses multiple measures of aquifer health to decide what stage of pumping cuts to impose, including the J-17 well level and the flow rate of aquifer-fed springs in New Braunfels and San Marcos.

On Monday, 10-day flow at Comal Springs in New Braunfels remained at 181 cubic feet per second, below the 200 cubic feet per second necessary to reduce pumping restrictions.

“That’s what we’re waiting on now to get out of Stage 2,” Winterle said. “It’s really proportional to the J-17, but there’s a little bit of a lag.”

Across the Hill Country north and west of the city, rivers also are coming back to life after months of low flow.

For weeks, dry weather has reduced the Guadalupe River north of San Antonio to a series of lukewarm pools, but on Sunday it became a rushing torrent. The river’s level rose from 3 feet Sunday morning to more than 12 feet on Sunday night.

Drought also left Medina Lake, which impounds water in the hills west of San Antonio, at only 48 percent of capacity, according to Texas Water Development Board data. But levels of the lake started rising over the weekend – 2 feet since Saturday.

Minor flooding could continue over the next few days, with forecasters are predicting continued scattered thunderstorms and showers.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.