Home Up Waterworld 2


Tropical Storm Allison 2001 - The Worst Urban Flood in US History

Story written by Rick Archer
June 2001
Last Update: June 2011

Due to the extreme destruction, the name Allison was permanently retired; the 2001 incarnation of Allison is the only Atlantic tropical system ever to have its name retired without reaching hurricane strength.


2011 Note from Rick Archer:  It is now the ten year anniversary of Allison, the craziest weather phenomenon I have ever personally witnessed... and I hope it stays that way.

As I write, it is June 2011.  It is currently 100 degrees out, a record-setting temperature.  It hasn't rained in two weeks and there is no rain in sight.  That's right, irony of ironies, Houston is currently mired in the worst prolonged drought I can remember.  Is the drought bad enough to welcome another Allison?  No, of course not, but something much less severe would actually be appreciated!

I am not the only one to whisper such blasphemy.  Houston meteorologist Frank Billingsley pretty much said the same thing.  In his 2011 Hurricane guide, Billingsley wrote: "Given our severe drought situation this spring, we honestly could use a nice, tame tropical system.  So let's wish for the upside of the season and hope the worst doesn't come calling our way."

A drought has to be pretty bad to start wishing for a small hurricane, but a lot of people are thinking that exact thing.  As with any Devil's bargain, that is how serious this dry spell is.

But for now, let's go back and remember Tropical Storm Allison.  I think you will enjoy the story about what went on at SSQQ that night.  Never underestimate the ability of single people to get into trouble.  In addition you absolutely need to read the story of Steve Bahnsen's near-escape from death.  Another terrific... and very funny... story is Dan Brown's experience in the Katy Freeway Bathtub.  You will be surprised to discover the stories will be just as much fun to read today as they were 10 years ago.


Recollections of Allison

On Friday night, June 8, 2001, the Heavens opened up and poured down heavy rains upon Houston for nearly 10 straight hours.

Thanks to Tropical Storm Allison, in less than two hours, most of Houston was completely flooded. More than 20 people lost their lives and the water caused over three billion dollars worth of damage  [2011 Note: that figure has since risen to $5.5 billion]. 

Many SSQQ students sent in stories of their adventures during this amazing evening.  In particular, I want you to read about Steve Bahnsen's narrow escape from a flooding vehicle whose doors couldn't be opened!  True story, scary story, amazing story.

Another wonderful story is Dan Green's fascinating minute-by-minute account of being trapped in the I-10 Truck Graveyard.  During the storm, the Katy Freeway at TC Jester turned into the Katy Bathtub.  His very funny story carries some excellent advice as well: 

"Don't ever curse people out in a storm ... because you just might end up spending the night with them at a gas station!"

This is Heights Boulevard heading north.  That is the Katy Freeway up ahead.  Do you see those people wading?  That is a bridge that crosses White Oak Bayou.  It is difficult to visualize, but White Oak Bayou has risen to the same level as the bridge.  That bridge is about 20 feet above water level!

Another story you will enjoy is what happened at my dance studio on Bissonnet that night.  My dance studio served as an impromptu Noah's Ark for 20 people who were stranded at SSQQ all night long.  It was quite a night indeed!

However, before we begin my own story, let's take a look at the water itself.  The problem with flood pictures is you don't know what the place normally looks like.  The pictures on the left and right were taken at the Shepherd Drive bridge where it crosses Memorial Drive during the Allison storm. Now we see that the water rose 12 feet high. 

Just to put things in perspective, the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean 250 miles south of India.  These islands rest a mere four feet above sea level. That's how fragile that island is to rising water. So imagine how much water it takes to create an instant lake 12 feet deep.

 As you can see, the water made it at least to 12 feet.  This picture was taken next to St. Thomas HS


The Katy Freeway Bathtub Effect

Before we begin our stories, I would like to give some background information about Houston's bayous, White Oak Bayou in particular.  Houston is known as the 'Bayou City' for a reason.  This area does not have a major river, so our bayou system handles the water drainage.

Every single Houston bayou created headaches during Allison, but White Oak probably caused the most problems.  The damage White Oak Bayou did to the Katy Freeway absolutely crippled this vital artery.  Many people have never quite understood what caused an important three-mile stretch of Katy Freeway I-10 to suddenly become submerged, so I thought I would do my best to clear up some of the mystery.

The City of Houston was originally built along the banks of a muddy bayou known as Buffalo Bayou.  Just north of downtown in the upper left corner of this picture, another bayou known as White Oak merges with Buffalo Bayou to create a good sized stream that eventually turns into the Houston Ship Channel.

In addition, Greens Bayou which runs parallel to I-45, connects with White Oak Bayou exactly in the lower right hand corner of the picture above.   This junction takes place about 1.5 miles before White Oak connects with Buffalo Bayou in the upper left hand corner of the picture.

Greens Bayou was a major culprit during Allison.  Greens Bayou was responsible for flooding I-45 just north of downtown during Allison.  It was the confluence of these three major bayous that created this sensational Allison flood picture of Downtown Houston.

As this Google Earth photo of the same area shows, ordinarily White Oak Bayou is no big deal.  In this picture, White Oak Bayou is contained as usual in its concrete culvert. It is about 12 feet wide and about 5 feet deep.  White Oak Bayou is dormant at the moment. 

However, when it rains, White Oak will grow so much it practically becomes a raging river.  There is nothing built on that green area for a reason - that is a flood plain.  If it rains hard enough, all that green will disappear... as is shown in the Allison picture on the left. 

Allison created this flood, the worst I have seen in my 60 years of living in Houston. I have never seen the freeways under water!  However it isn't unusual to see at least half this area fill up with water after a hard rain.  Mind you, the freeways don't get covered with water, but the grassy areas will disappear about once every two years if the storm is strong.

Here is sleepy White Oak Bayou on a pleasant day.  White Oak Bayou on a normal day is maybe 3-4 feet deep.  Do you see that bridge?  Call it "Bridge X".  I have seen the water rise right to the very bottom of that bridge!!   This entire valley becomes one giant lake.   That thin yellow line marks the water line in a flood.  The water covers that walking path on the far left.  I see floods that big maybe once every three years.  The most recent one was after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

White Oak runs parallel to I-10 Katy Freeway through an area known as the "Houston Heights".   It is called the 'Heights' for a reason... it is the highest natural elevation in the city about 50 higher than the rest of Houston.   The entire green area in the picture becomes one long enormous "water retention area" in heavy rains. 

This is White Oak Bayou in the same spot as the picture above.  I took the flood photograph from Bridge X facing west (Y).   Point Y is 500 yards away.  I estimate the water has risen 30 feet!  Notice the water is almost about to flood a low section of the Katy Freeway I-10.   This picture was taken during Hurricane Ike in 2008, but I'm sure it looked even worse in Allison.  That freeway was probably covered.

I call Houston the 'Concrete Capital'.  We love our vast concrete freeways.  Most of the freeways in Houston are marred by one ugly advertisement sign after another, but there is one very attractive 3 mile stretch of freeway on I-10 Katy just inside the West Loop 610.  This stretch of freeway is submerged about 20 feet below ground level.  The lush green banks are lined with trees and bushes. 

By chance, White Oak Bayou runs roughly parallel to the Katy Freeway.  I moved to the Heights in 1977.  As a long-time resident of the area, I drove this 3 mile stretch of the Katy Freeway every day for 20 years without a problem.  Then one very rainy day around 1995, for the first time ever I noticed water suddenly begin to shoot upwards through the drains along the submerged section of the Katy Freeway.  Water began collecting on the freeway just like a swimming pool might begin to fill up with water. 

Alarmed, I drove to the nearest exit and got out of there while I still could.  I got out just in time.  The water didn't rise much further, but quite a few cars did end up getting stuck in this impromptu bathtub.

I was absolutely baffled by what I had seen.  What had made that water shoot upwards through the drains? 

Curious to understand what could cause that phenomenon, I asked Bob, an engineer friend, if he knew what was going on.   He explained that the water came from White Oak Bayou nearby.   The water in White Oak is typically about 20 feet LOWER than the submerged section of the Katy Freeway.  Therefore, whenever it rains, the water in the submerged section of the Katy Freeway drains into White Oak Bayou

Okay, that much I understood.  Yes, water typically drains downwards.  So what caused the water to reverse?  What would cause White Oak Bayou to drain into the Katy Freeway?   Bob explained that the heavy storm had raised the water in White Oak Bayou so high that for the first time ever the water level in White Oak was higher than the Katy Freeway.  The water pressure became so intense that it forced water to flow upwards through the same drain pipes in the Freeway. 

At this point, the submerged part of the Katy Freeway was submerged in more ways than one.  The Freeway had just become a giant bathtub. 


This is a famous picture taken during Tropical Storm Allison that dramatically shows the Katy Freeway Bathtub Effect.

You can see the giant beer trucks stuck in the water, but they are not alone.  There are about 30 others cars and trucks out there too.  You can't see them because they are all under water. 

The water is about twelve feet high... which means the water in the nearby swollen White Oak Bayou must be at least 30 feet high!

When I saw this problem in 1995 for the first time, the water was only about two or three feet deep.  In other words, here in 2001 the Katy Freeway Bathtub Effect had become far more serious.  

The thing that bothered me was that I had driven this section for twenty years without seeing this problem.  Why now?   Why didn't I notice it before?  This section of the Katy Freeway was built back in the Seventies.  Why did the Bathtub Effect wait twenty years to become a serious problem?

Bob said he had a theory.  He thought the answer was related to development in Cy-Fair area northwest of downtown.

Bob said that the Cypress-Fairbanks development northwest of downtown Houston was the likely culprit.  Bob said that back when the submerged part of the Katy Freeway was reconstructed in the Seventies, Cy-Fair was practically empty.  At that point, Jersey Village was just being developed.  Now thirty years later, the Cy-Fair area ten miles northwest of Jersey Village had become Houston's fastest growing area.   Bob said all of this development was in the White Oak Bayou watershed.   The urban development 15 miles to the northwest had created huge problems for the inner loop part of I-10 Katy Freeway.

In the old days, whenever it rained, the water just sat in fields and ditches for a while.  This area drained slowly.  However once this area was developed, the streets facilitated a rapid run-off of all rainwater directly into White Oak Bayou.  As a result, White Bayou was now handling twice the amount of water at its peak compared to thirty years earlier.  All the rainwater from the Cy-Fair area came rushing down the bayou.  Unfortunately, at the narrow points of White Oak Bayou, the water could not drain fast enough.  Consequently the water level at the narrow points in the Bayou rose to levels people never imagined possible when they redesigned the Katy Freeway years earlier.  The higher water level during powerful rain storms created the Katy Freeway Bathtub Effect.

After all the damage caused by Allison, Houston's city planners decided enough was enough.  They had to slow the water down.  From that point, the city has forced any developer in the Cy-Fair area to build huge water retention areas.   The map above on the right shows 7 "Water Detention" areas which are basically "Empty Lakes for Rainwater to Wait in".   Whatever they did seems to be working.  I have only seen the bathtub effect a couple times since Allison.  One was a minor incident that went away in thirty minutes and the other was Hurricane Ike in 2008. 

I found a remarkable picture in Google Earth from 1978 that shows the fields where the rainwater used to sit.  Today thanks to all the development in the Cypress-Fairbanks area in the past 30 years, water is sent quickly to White Oak Bayou by the new concrete streets acting as efficient tributaries. 

Rick's Story:  How SSQQ Became Noah's Ark for a Night

Written Tuesday, 06/12/2001

As I drove to the studio for classes that fateful Friday night at 6:30 pm, little did I suspect what was in store for us later that night. At this time, it was raining lightly.

However I could see the skies were ominously dark. I recalled with a frown the huge rains of the previous Tuesday that had devastated our classes and figured the same thing would happen again tonight if the current downpour picked it up at all.

Little did I know that the massive storm from Tuesday had simply gone back out into the Gulf of Mexico to 'reload'.  Now it was back. Oddly enough, on Friday, Allison's big night, there was no media fanfare from the weather people.  Yes, of course they predicted rain, but no one even remotely suspected what we were in for. 

As people were driving to dance class that evening, at this point the rain wasn't heavy enough to scare anyone away.  For example, I got to the studio without a problem.  Walking in the door at 6:30, the rain was just barely drizzling.  The rain intensity picked up about 6:55 pm and turned into a downpour.  This was exactly when people arrived at the studio.  Stuck in their cars, it was either drive back home or run frantically into the studio.  Most people chose to stay. Lots of people started showing up with their clothes completely soaked.  That told me the rains had begun to pick up. 'Oh great', I thought. 'Just what we need - more rain!!'

Attendance at the dance classes was pretty good.  It rained steadily through the 7-9 classes. When classes ended, some people - the smart ones - decided not to stick around.  They headed out the door promptly at 9 pm, but many others stayed for the SSQQ Friday Practice Night assuming the rains would eventually ease up.  Consequently Practice was crowded. 

Typically four or five instructors stay to run the Practice party every Friday evening.  Some are expected to stay an hour, others are supposed to stay till the end and close up. It was my night to leave early, but I hung around anyway.  My reason was mostly philanthropic.

The philanthropic side of me suggested there might be flooding.  If so, some people would need to stay at the studio.  This occurred to me as early as 10 pm. 

I might add that didn't want to go out driving in this awful weather.  Like everyone else, I was reluctant to drive home in this pouring rain.  However, I assumed I could have made it home at any time.  I knew the Heights could be reached by the Katy Freeway. The West Loop and Katy Freeway are usually immune from flooding problems (according to Dan Green, the Katy Freeway was still open as late as 11:45 pm).

Many people later told me they were thinking the same thing - stay and wait for the rain to abate. Silly me. Silly us. 

It kept raining and raining. All night long people would dance a while, then go outside and check the rain only to come back inside shaking their heads in shock and amazement.  It was pouring out there!  The word 'deluge' was used several times. 

About 11:30 we had a new development. Martha Gerdes had left the studio 15 minutes earlier, but now I frowned as I saw her reenter the studio soaking wet. Martha reported to everyone she couldn't get out of the Bellaire area. Uh oh. Martha owned a truck. If Martha couldn't get out it, we were all in trouble. 

After a quick phone call to her friend Rick Lybarger who had apparently made it home, Martha decided to try a different route. So she left again at Midnight. Her friend Michelle Crossley who drives a monster truck decided to leave too, but headed in a different direction.

As she left, Michelle told me she wasn't worried a bit.  Hah!  It turned out both ladies spent the entire night stuck four blocks from the studio. Martha was stuck at a gas station, Michelle was stuck at a convenience store.  

Fortunately they had each other - they spent the night calling each other on their cell phones for company.

Michelle's Note: "Spent the night in the parking lot of the Jiffy Mart/Stop & Rob or whatever the name of that little store was.  David Kreidler hit the median in his suv -I was following him - it flattened his tire & we stopped to change tires.  That's when the water rose.  We had no choice but to wait it out in that parking lot. I was on the phone all night with Martha Gerdes- stuck at another gas station...The median was under water-we couldn't see it.  I remember hearing several couples were created at the studio that night... Not me!!"

All night long I had nursed a funny feeling about all this unusual amount of rain.  In the past when it had rained hard, I could always reach the West Loop and scoot to safety. But not tonight - by 11 pm unless you had a truck no one could reach the West Loop from the studio. I had never seen this happen before. Bellaire floods in places, but not SSQQ.  At least not till tonight.

Every now and then I would go outside to check on conditions.  Our studio parking lot was completely under water.  I wondered if the studio was safe.  The water was coming right up to the lip of the curb.  Little waves occasionally lapped up onto the sidewalk.  If the water rose three more inches, we might have water come into the studio.  I held my breath and hoped for the best.

I could tell the rain conditions
were much different than they ever had been before.  It wasn't just raining - it was pouring outside and there no let-up whatsoever.  It was the most consistent downpour I had ever seen. 

At Midnight I found an umbrella, took off my shoes, rolled up my pants and waded out into the streets around the studio. The water came up to my knees.  My fears were confirmed - Bissonnet was completely under deep water all the way to the West Loop and in the other direction as well. And so was First Street, the side street where many students park their cars.  There was no escape possible.  No car could drive in water this deep.

As I returned to the studio, I worried about my own car getting flooded.  I got in my car and drove it up onto the shopping center walkway where it would be safe from the flooding. Then I grabbed a couple blankets from the car and went back inside.

I wasn't going anywhere and I knew it.  In fact, I had known since 10:30 pm that unless it stopped raining, I would be spending the night. Since I live in the Heights - named for its elevation (50 feet higher than the rest of the city) - I assumed I could still get home at this point via the Loop.  However I also knew that even if I could get home - and there was no guarantee that I could - many others couldn't.  

Like any good captain, I felt an obligation to stay with the ship and be at the studio to help the others who had no way to get home In retrospect I probably saved myself from all kinds of problems.  They say no good deed goes unpunished, but in this case I probably benefited from my willingness to stick around and help.

After Martha's dramatic announcement that she was going to make a last ditch effort (now I know where that phrase comes from - last person out ends up in a ditch!), several people decided it was now or never. They had begun to realize that something really bizarre was going on and that the rains weren't going to stop.

Gary Richardson made a dash with his wife Betty and daughter Cyndi.  15 minutes later, Gary and his family were back at the studio. Their escape attempt had failed. In fact, Gary said he had to drive on the wrong side of Bellaire Avenue just to make it back to the studio.

said he was fortunate that many people were braver (is that really the word for it?) than he was. In several places, Gary watched as other vehicles attempted to cross flooded areas only to fail miserably. Once he saw their cars get permanently stuck, Gary concluded the best place for him was back at the studio before it was too late

So Gary began a harrowing trip back that ultimately forced him to drive on the wrong side of Bellaire Boulevard.  Normally Bellaire has three lanes in two directions. But tonight only the south side was still open. As a result, there was two-way traffic in those three lanes.  Fortunately there wasn't much danger of collision - the cars did little better than barely crawl past each other at one inch per hour.

flood waters in underground tunnels

Gary wasn't alone in his decision to return. Many SSQQ students tried to leave only to return 15 or 20 minutes later shaking their heads in frustration. All the time I just sat on the couch in Room 2, the TV room, watching Channel 2.  I wasn't going anywhere; I wanted to stay in case anyone needed me.

Brian White and Ann Bush, SSQQ instructors, made their move at midnight only to return soon after. They said Chimney Rock was hopeless just as Gary Richardson had reported earlier. Brian and Ann were the first to size up the situation for what it was - escape was hopeless.  Accordingly, upon their return, Brian and Ann quickly seized control of the largest couch in Room One and snuggled in for the night.  Smart move.  They guarded that couch carefully - when one got up, the other stayed on the couch to make sure no poachers stole it from them!  Just kidding.  Sort of.

I am sorry I didn't get everyone's name who stayed the night, but I wasn't in much of a "reporting mood". There was a lady named Lorena whose son Michael called her to report he had totaled his car by driving into a "bottomless pit".  He had no idea how deep the water was when he drove into it.  That was very dangerous. My friend Steve Bahnsen nearly drowned doing the same thing that night!

There was a gentleman named Arthur. There was another gentleman - name withheld deliberately - who was seven sheets to the wind.  More about him later.   Janis and her friend Erik were two of the people who tried to leave, but they were gone less than 10 minutes. Their gloomy report on the hopelessness of trying to escape marked the final effort to leave.  No one else bothered after that.  There were several other people who stayed as well, but I do not remember their names. 

I estimate close to 25 people were stranded for the night at the SSQQ Ark. 

I might add in twenty-two years of business at our location, nothing remotely like this had ever happened before. This was the first sleepover in studio history.  A year earlier I had anticipated something like this might happen to us on New Year's Eve due to the much-ballyhooed Y2K bug, but that of course had turned out to be total nonsense.

This however was a modern day flood of tremendous proportions. 

Now that I realize the full extent of what happened, I now consider Tropical Storm Allison to be an 'Event of a Lifetime' that all of us who live in Houston will remember forever. 


Jim Colby was one of the stars of the evening. He drove a huge pickup truck. He was unable to get Marlane Kayfes safely to her nearby home, but on the way back to the studio they decided to stop for hamburgers. Jim and Marlane returned with a dozen boxes of hamburgers and French fries, which they generously shared with a much-appreciative group. 

Throughout the wee hours of the morning, I continued to just lay on the couch watching in horror as the stories developed on TV. I could not believe the TV coverage continued throughout the night.  I assumed that the power would be knocked out, but amazingly we kept our electricity all night long.  I had given up hope of leaving long ago and now I just wanted everyone (including myself) to be comfortable. I opened up the drink room and told everyone to help themselves. Then I scrounged around for some extra blankets and pillows in the office to hand to people. I also watched with amusement as the ladies raided the Ladies Room 'Lost and Found' for abandoned jackets and shirts. SSQQ Instructor Gloria Sanchez and Sharon Belchick were soon sporting warm pullovers. 

SSQQ instructor Linda Cook sized things up quickly. She claimed a couch early on and pulled out a book. How she read in the darkness of Room 2 is beyond me, but she quickly made herself as comfortable as she could and read deep into the night. I don't remember seeing her move from that spot one time.

Kimberly Smith was another person who decided not to make a run for it. Instead she grabbed the final remaining spot on the couch Gary Richardson and I shared.  The three of us sat side by side watching the events unfold on TV.  Later in the evening, Gary got tired of watching TV, so he moved over to another couch to be with his wife Betty.  At this point, Kimberly and I stretched out with our faces at opposite ends of the couch.  Unfortunately my long legs did not fit very well. I had to contract my legs in order to lay down.

I was uncomfortable all night long.  Even when I finally fell asleep around 3 or 4 in the morning, I am sure I tossed and turned.  About 6 am I awoke from a doze when I heard a yelp of pain.  I looked up to find poor Kimberly struggling to lift my foot out of her face at the other end of the couch.  Apparently as I tossed and turned, my leg had straightened and my foot inadvertently landed right on top of her nose.  Ouch!  Oops, sorry, Kim. 

Larry Leising was smart. He got the last remaining couch in the Big Room. After I turned out the lights at 12:30 am, Larry said he quickly fell asleep and didn't wake up until 6:30 am the next day. Now that's the right idea!

Around 1 am on one of my patrols outside, I discovered a thin young lady standing on the sidewalk shivering violently in her rain-soaked clothes. Her name was Yvette.  I guess she was about 18.  She never explained her sudden appearance to me, but my instincts told she was driving down Bissonnet getting nowhere.  Knowing she had to stop driving at some point, she probably pulled into our parking lot after seeing the other cars there.

I invited Yvette to come into the studio, but she refused to budge.  Bless her heart, I think Yvette was worried about trusting me. I did my best to convince her to come inside, but didn't get very far.  I explained that there were other people inside including lots of women.  She did not have to be afraid.  That didn't work.  She seemed suspicious I was trying to trick her.  Then I said I would go in first and she could follow a safe distance behind and look around.  That way if I did something bad, she could still run to the door.  That didn't work either. 

Yvette would rather stay outside and be miserable than risk making a serious mistake.  I felt so sorry for her!  It was like coaxing a wounded dog to take a bite of food out of your hand.  Finally I said, "Yvette, if I was a bad person, I could just drag you inside anyway.  There's no one out here in this rain to help you.  But I am not going to hurt you.  So here's what I am going to do.  I am going back inside.  There is the door.  You know where it is. Please join us when you are ready.  You will be much more comfortable, I promise."  To be honest, that approach was not well received. 

So I gave up and went back inside.  Five minutes passed.  No Yvette.  Frustrated, I had another idea.  I asked one of the ladies to go outside and fetch the young girl.  Maybe a woman could talk some sense into her.  Sure enough, that worked.  Almost immediately, Yvette appeared in the doorway to Room Two.  I was a little irritated that the girl didn't trust me, but I was relieved to see her nonetheless.  She needed to be inside. 

I could certainly understand Yvette's reluctance - don't trust strangers in a storm who are much bigger than you.

Believe me, Yvette's face broke into a huge smile when she realized there really was an entire community of decent people inside.  Yvette had to feel very vulnerable (as I am sure Martha and Michelle did stuck alone in their trucks!).  I gave Yvette one of my blankets and pointed out a large chair in Room 4.  Yvette was so small she was able to curl up into a ball. She quickly fell asleep and rested safely. 

That was the last time I saw her. I went back to my couch and more unfolding TV stories.  I dozed off.  When I checked on her in the morning she was gone.  I assume she left when the water receded.

I never knew what Yvette's story was.  She reminded me of Riders on the Storm - alone and defenseless in a cold cruel world.  What Yvette was doing alone in the night at 1 am in the worst storm imaginable I will never know, but I felt proud that I was able to help her.  She obviously needed it.

The Whole World is Flooding!

I worried all night long about losing my wood floor to the flood.  Fortunately the flooding never came close to threatening the studio. The parking lot got high waters, but thankfully the flood stopped at the very top of the sidewalk curb. The waters never crossed the sidewalk. Believe me, I checked.

The rains continued well into the night without letup. Midnight passed... it was still raining.  2 am arrived... still raining.  All of us watched the amazing stories on the TV in muted horror. I admired the brave news people who reported throughout the night. Many of them were soaking wet and cold, but they gamely kept sharing their reports. 

In a way, what else did they have to do?  Once they got to a spot, they became stranded in that place just like everyone else.  Might as well keep reporting.

The weatherman tried to explain the bizarre weather phenomenon that was causing our problem.  He said this storm had some sort of meteorological water hose connecting it to the Gulf of Mexico that allowed it to transfer unending amounts of water up from the Gulf, circle it forward and drop it directly over Houston.  Don't expect me to explain this strange idea because I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life.  However, judging from the amounts of water falling on my city, I was starting to believe it.  Somebody turn off the hose!

Thanks to the TV crews, throughout the night we watched all sorts of rescue operations and tales of woe.  We saw pictures of cars stalled in high waters and people standing on car rooftops begging to be rescued.  One story was particularly gripping.  Several motorists had been stranded in the middle of an intersection.  Finally a fire engine was able to make its way fairly close by.  The firemen got out a boat and motored over to get the motorists.

The Fire Department had just finished rescuing the stranded motorists when a bizarre situation developed nearby.  About two hundred yards away, the cameraman had noticed a man and his wife were trying to put their three small children into a child's plastic swimming pool.  He swung his camera around so we could watch.  They were about to attempt to wade across a huge sea of very deep water. Everyone at the studio gasped at the sheer folly of this idea.

The bottom of swimming pool was too weak to hold the children.  And the water was too deep for the man to stand up for long.  He would have to swim or dog paddle.  What would happen to the children when he couldn't stand up to support the swimming pool?  One of those kids was bound to fall into the water.  Every one of us stared in horror at the unfolding drama.  It turned out we weren't the only ones who were worried.   

This picture is a perfect example of a man whose stupidity might just result in a posthumous "Darwin Award"

The live camera feed captured the stunned faces of the firemen who also watched in horror as this unbelievably stupid couple plopped their three kids - one a baby - into the flimsy swimming pool to see if it would float.  Of course a swimming pool won't float!

Finally the fireman were convinced these idiots were actually going to try it if someone didn't do something.  So one of the firemen got in the boat and went over to "persuade" the family to stop.  He offered them a ride in his boat instead.  Problem solved.  We clapped and cheered.  These guys were our heroes!

As I stared in morbid fascination, a truly dark side of me thought about the Darwin Awards.  The 'Darwin Awards' are a sick but fascinating set of true stories about people who died or were seriously hurt due to their own actions. They had done something so unbelievably stupid that some people would say they actually 'DESERVED' to die!

This strange award was named in honor of Sir Charles Darwin. His theories on natural selection included the theory that the fittest survive and the corollary that the stupidest don't!  Darwin said that eliminating the stupidest people or animals from the gene pool was a good thing because it improved the species' chances of survival.  I knew Darwin wrote a lot about gene pools, but I wasn't sure what he said about swimming pools.

Saturday - The Morning After

Throughout the evening people thanked me for letting them stay. I replied that they were more than welcome.

Their appreciation embarrassed me in a way.  It wasn't like I did anything to
deserve much credit.  I was pleased that I was in a position to help.  It was the right to do. Thanks to the studio, we all spent the night in far more comfort than a lot of other people.  After all, I knew from 11 pm on it was unlikely that any of us who were still there weren't going home that night.  Indeed I appreciated the sanctuary of the studio just as much as everyone else. It was no big deal to extend the hospitality.

Let me add I wasn't the only one in the room to feel extraordinarily fortunate to be so snug and safe while we watched many others clearly suffer a far worse fate on TV.   Everyone was just as friendly that night as any house guest could possibly be.  The morale stayed high throughout the ordeal.  Not one person complained about a thing.  They were grateful to be safe and dry.

The next morning, there was still water on the streets, but it had subsided.  Gary Richardson and I drove four blocks to a nearby Randalls.  Gary and I were both astonished to see the store was open.  We asked how they had gotten there in these conditions only to be told that many employees had spent the night trapped there. 

Gary and I looked at each other and grinned.  We knew exactly what they were talking about.  They had been in the same spot as us.

Meanwhile, their bad luck was our good luck.  We thanked them for being kind enough to open up.  We bought fruit and sandwich food to bring back for breakfast, a gesture that was much appreciated by the gang.

By 11 am that morning, the water around the studio had retreated to the point that everyone felt safe enough to leave.  I waited awhile to see if anyone returned.  After about 20 minutes, I decided the coast was clear and headed home myself.  What a strange night!


Looking Back

As we watched the misfortunes of others on TV, we were grateful to be high and dry while thousands of others were trapped in dangerous and miserable conditions.  Even better, none of suffered any car damage whatsoever.  We were the lucky ones.

Yes, we were stuck at the studio, but as we saw the misery reflected on the faces of the thousands of people whose cars had stalled or who were trapped in one spot by rising water, we counted our blessings.  We all understood it could have been much worse.  For example, Steve Bahnsen, a friend of mine from the studio, had taken a dance class at SSQQ the same evening only to almost drown over in the Heights when he and his friends were caught inside his car with water rushing over them!

No one complained about his or her fate the entire night. We had food, we had couches, we had TV, and we had each other for company. As impromptu slumber parties go, this one went well.

I am just glad that we were able to be safe and relatively comfortable during a very dangerous night. 

Slow Dance and Romance in the Storm

As difficult as it may be to believe, there actually was some frisky business at the studio that night.  No, I am not making this up.  There was definitely some serious hanky-panky.  I was unable to report this when I first wrote my story ten years ago, but I no longer feel I have my hands tied.

For starters, on a couch right across the room from me, one couple spent the entire night laughing, cuddling and smooching.  Throughout the night I had a choice between watching TV or watching them smooch.  I had some mixed feelings about their pleasure.  On the one hand, I was happy for them as they giggled the night away.  Their night spent together helped forge a powerful connection.  They were inseparable after that.  In fact, the last time I checked, they are still together as of 2011.  So obviously the romantic sparks during that crazy night here at SSQQ lit a fuse that still burns.

However, on another level their joy was especially irritating to me because I was unusually grouchy.  I had just gotten my divorce only two weeks earlier.  Not surprisingly, I wasn't in one of those 'joy to the world' kind of moods.  In fact, I would describe my mood as closer to "Paint it Black". 

Just to set the record straight, I stayed put in Room 2 all night long watching TV.  Although it is true I shared my couch with a pretty girl named Kimberly, I can assure the world I was a good boy.  Her head was at one end and my head was at the other the entire night. 

I was not even remotely in the mood for love.  You see, at 7 pm in the evening I noticed a girl I had dated a couple times come into the studio with some guy she was clearly interested in.  I could instantly see she had a lot more enthusiasm for him than she ever had for me.  I hated to admit it, but I would say she had the hots for him... without any regard for my feelings, she was all over the guy! 

I was subjected to their chemistry all night long until they left the studio together around 11 pm.  I was thrilled to see them leave.  Good riddance!  Maybe now I could begin to handle my feelings better.  I had been bent of shape over being rejected.  Divorce is hard enough without having to deal with stuff like this.  To my dismay, 15 minutes later they both returned to the studio soaking wet.  I was not at all happy to see them come back, but it was about to get worse.  Shortly after, I remember looking up to see the lady help her new flame carry a couch from Room 1 over to Room 6.  Once they went into Room 6, they never came back out.  My imagination of what they were up to tortured me all night long.

I was furious.  It's one thing to have a girl decide she isn't that interested in me, but to see her clearly prefer someone else and to practically rub my face in it all night long was especially humiliating.  Tack that on to my post-divorce gloom and I was forced to suffer through one of those awful 'dark nights of the soul'.

Divorce is tough enough without this extra gut punch to my self-esteem.  I was fortunate that Gary Richardson and his wife Betty spent the night with me. Although I doubt either of them knew just how unhappy I really was, just having them both around kept me from going off the deep end.  In particular, having Gary for company while we watched TV helped me make it through the night; I felt lucky to have him there.  Kimberly was cheerful too, which helped remind me that only some women are rotten... a good message to keep around considering my scorched earth mood.

Besides the lady who spurned me, I have a hunch that some of the other groovy singles in the group did not behave well either.  Nothing like a good storm to get the hormones all worked up.  They kept the Room 6 door closed and I was far too irritated to poke my nose in there and see for myself.

As I learned the next day, sometime during the night yet another couch was hauled by a different couple from Room 4 to Room 6 using the two front doors to make the transfer. Room 4 was far more comfortable, but people walked through that room all night long to look out at the rain.  Room 6 on the other hand afforded complete privacy. Once the door connecting Room 6 to Room 2 was closed, Room 6 became a den of iniquity.  Although I have no first-hand knowledge of what went on in there, I am fairly certain something happened.  My only question is just how far things went.

The next morning, a lady from Room 6 named Sharon walking out the door to leave, but stopped to tell me said she was especially grateful for her good fortune.  That raised an eyebrow.  So I asked her what she meant by that. 

Sharon grinned and thanked me for the opportunity to spend the long evening with so many attractive men.

Actually Sharon phrased it in a much bawdier way, but I no longer remember exactly what she said.  What I do remember was how proud she looked of herself. I had to assume that Sharon had gotten lucky in some way.  Whatever happened, she liked it.  On the other hand, she left alone. 

As the years have passed, I am still not sure exactly what went on in there.  Nor do I want to know.  However, I know you are consumed with curiosity. Well, cheer up.  I do have one juicy story that I can share.


Wasted Away in Margaritaville... The SSQQ Version

Jose Cuervo by Shelley West

Well, it's Sunday Mornin'
And the sun is shinin
in my eye that is open
and my head's a-spinnin'
I was the life of the party
I can't stop grinnin'
I had too much tequila last night

Jose Cuervo, you are a friend of mine
I like to drink you with a little salt and lime
Did I kiss all the cowboys? Did I shoot out the lights?
Did I dance on the bar? Did I start any fights?

Now wait a minute
things don't look too familiar
who is this cowboy who's sleeping beside me?
He's awful cute, but how'd I get his shirt on?
I had too much tequila last night


In the days that followed, no one said a word to me about the details of Room 6.  However, two weeks after Allison, a lady named Lorena shared a wild tale about a strange thing that happened that night in Room 6.  It seems we had a guy who got drunk out of his mind. 

Early in the evening I opened up both ends of the drink cooler and told people to help themselves.  Most people took soft drinks, but if someone wanted to have a beer, they were more than welcome. It wasn't like I was sending any drunk drivers out onto the streets, right?

Unbeknownst to me, that night during Allison's rains, one guy abused the privilege.  Once I opened the cooler, he started drinking beer.  Then he kept drinking.  I did notice the guy traipse through Room 2 on several occasions to make a beer run, but because he never bothered the rest of us, I didn't give it any thought.  As long as they were quiet, let them have their fun.  Since he stayed out of sight and did his drinking in Room 6, I had no idea how serious his situation got until Lorena confided some of the details.

As Lorena explained the story, it seems this guy had run into some bad luck recently.  He was feeling pretty low which sort of explained the drinking.  Lorena made it clear to me that she and this guy were nothing more than friends.  Normally this guy was pretty good company and she enjoyed dancing with him.  But tonight she was worried about him.  He was tying one on, so she decided to keep an eye out. Lorena was his guardian angel throughout the night. 

Obviously this guy had a drinking problem and decided to take advantage of the free beer.  Now I don't know which works quicker, tequila or beer, but I suppose if you drink enough of either you get to the same place eventually. 

Well, Lorena had every reason to worry. During the Wrath of Allison, this guy got so drunk that he went blotto.  At one point, Mr. Blotto almost urinated on the dance floor. He had already unzipped his fly and whipped it out when Lorena strongly recommend he consider using the bathroom ten feet away instead.  He protested it was too far.  So Lorena got up and shoved him in the right direction.  I think that should give you an idea how bad it was.  This guy was totally wasted.

In the middle of the night, Mr. Blotto got a craving for a cigarette.  Apparently he had to have a smoke even if it meant wading out to his car in the driving rain to get his cigarettes.  Lorena explained to Mr. Blotto how ridiculous this was, but he wouldn't listen.  He waded out to his car, retrieved his smokes and waded back.

At least he had the consideration to smoke outside on the covered sidewalk.  Afterwards Mr. Blotto came back in the studio and laid down.  He was ready to sleep now.  Unfortunately it was chilly in the studio.  As the rains continued, everybody was shivering a little bit.  Mr. Blotto had gotten soaking wet in the process of getting to his car.  Soon he started to shiver.  Then he started to shake violently.  His teeth chattered.  Nothing seemed to warm him up.  Mr. Blotto was freezing. 

Lorena took pity on Mr. Blotto.  She remembered that she had a load of her son's dirty wash in her car trunk.  What this guy didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Besides, in his condition he wasn't likely to notice or care.  Realizing tough times call for tough solutions, Lorena went to her car and found a heavy shirt.  She took a deep sniff and decided it wasn't in too bad a shape.  Then she found a pair of dirty blue jeans.  She went back in the studio and told her friend to take off his soaked shirt and put this dry shirt on, which he gladly did.  Then she handed him the jeans and left the room while he changed.  She left some dirty socks for him to put on too. 

Lorena was the best thing that ever happened to this guy.  Now that he was dry, the shaking stopped.  Soon after, the man mercifully passed out and never stirred again. 

The next morning, Lorena was already awake. After eating one of the breakfast rolls I had brought back from Randalls, Lorena was coming back into Room Six when she noticed Mr. Blotto was finally beginning to stir.  Worried, she went over and sat down beside him.  He opened his eyes and stared at her in a daze.  It was obvious he was barely one notch better than brain dead in this condition.  Slowly he began to sit up.  He winced with each movement. 

It took him a while to figure out where he was.  Eventually he looked down at Lorena's shirt.  A deeply confused look crossed his face.  The guy looked at Lorena and then stared back at the strange shirt in bewilderment.  Lorena was amused, but she said nothing.  Blotto looked at Lorena again.  Finally Mr. Blotto couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.  He pointed to the shirt he was wearing and smiled hopefully. 

"Uh, Lorena, I can't remember, but did you and I, uh, did something special happen I need to know about?" 

"I had too much tequila last night..."

There's more!  Be sure to read about Steve Bahnsen's close brush with death!

For more stories about Allison, click Water World Stories 2


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