No respite for the weary in Texas spring storms

Record rainfall has slowed local business, submerged amusement parks, and brought umbrellas into vogue.

First thing every morning, Shane Gillespie switches on the TV to check the weather. If it's more than a 30 percent chance of rain, this downtown bike messenger reaches for his rain gear.

"This is the first day I've left my rain gear at home in a week," he says, resting under a tree after a slight sprinkle.

Yes, the Southeast has gotten soaked and its citizens are just now emerging, a little wetter for the wear and a lot testier from the sun deprivation. The record rain has forced people from their homes, washed cars away, and submerged amusement parks - and none of it was the result of a tropical storm or hurricane.

The month-long rain was simply an upper-level disturbance from the west interacting with the warm Gulf Coast moisture. But it's been held in place by a high-pressure zone over the Atlantic.

The result: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston logged their second wettest Junes in history - with area weather forecast offices issuing 862 severe thunderstorm warnings, 688 flash-flood warnings, and 70 tornado warnings, according to the National Weather Service's Southern Region Headquarters in Fort Worth.

"Most of the Southeast is saturated," says Jill Hasling, director of the Houston-based Weather Research Center. "We can't take much more."

Here in Houston, the city has sloshed to a halt. Construction projects have been put on hold, summer camps have been postponed, and outdoor businesses have suffered. At a westside Mister Car Wash, workers snap their towels at one another, waiting for someone to pull in.

"We've been in business for over 30 years and this is our worst month ever," says Michael Hogan, vice president of operations. "And we can't make that up."

He says wet months - and there are many in semitropical Houston - don't usually equate with poor sales. After a hard rain, people want a clean car. But with 23 out of 30 days of rain in June, that next deluge was always right around the corner, says Mr. Hogan.

At least after Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001 - the wettest June on record in Houston - the rain came and went in a matter of days. This has been unrelenting.

"It feels like we live in Seattle," says an exasperated Hogan.

But Ms. Hasling says the two cities' rain cannot be compared. "That's not real rain up there. It's just drizzle - and there's no thunder."

Indeed, the American South has the the most active weather in the nation, with a third of all US rainfall; half of severe thunderstorms; flash floods and tornados; and the largest number of land-falling tropical storms and hurricanes. Houston, for instance, has recorded its average year's worth of rain in just six months.

You'd think Southerners would be used to this by now. But the hurricane season is just starting, and patience is already running dry.

"It's been rough," says Matt Swanson, the golf pro at Wildcat Golf Club in south Houston. "We've had a lot of frustrated golfers."

While he's been able to teach lessons in an indoor/outdoor facility, business at the golf course is down about 50 percent - and that's at one of the highest courses in the area, built on an old landfill. Now that the rain has tapered off, he says, "You can bet people are going to have the bug to get out and play golf."

But bugs are getting the bug as well. Heat, humidity, and rain are a breeding haven for mosquitoes and other insects.

"If it's not one thing, it's another," says Mr. Gillespie, getting up from his break to deliver another package. In his business, rain means more work: Interns at law firms and oil companies who normally do smaller runs don't want to venture out. That means about 10 more runs per day on slick, hazardous roads.

The rain "slows you down and soaks you to the skin," says the tattoo-covered bike messenger. "And you've got to be careful that the package doesn't end up dripping wet."

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