HOUSTON -- Nicholas strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Monday night as it headed toward landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast, and it was expected to bring heavy rain and floods to coastal areas, including storm-battered Louisiana and the same area hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Nearly all of Texas' coastline was under a tropical storm warning that included potential flash floods and urban flooding. Gov. Greg Abbott said authorities placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the coast.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds reached 75 mph. The storm was traveling north-northeast at 10 mph. It was forecast to pass near Matagorda Bay in the upper Texas Gulf Coast late Monday, then move onshore along the Southeast Texas coast into this evening.
Nicholas was centered roughly 45 miles southwest of Freeport, Texas, as of late Monday.
In flood-prone Houston, officials worried that heavy rain expected to arrive late Monday and early today would inundate streets and flood homes. Authorities deployed high-water rescue vehicles throughout the city and erected barricades at more than 40 locations that tend to flood, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
"This city is very resilient. We know what we need to do. We know about preparing," said Turner, referencing four major flood events that have hit the Houston area in recent years, including devastating damage from Harvey.
Several schools in the Houston and Galveston areas were closed Monday because of the incoming storm. The Houston school district, the state's largest, announced that classes would be canceled today.
Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites were closed in Harris County, which includes Houston; Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston; and Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi.
On Monday afternoon, Nicholas was "moving erratically" just off Texas' Gulf coast, the hurricane center said.
A hurricane watch was issued from Port Aransas to San Luis Pass.
Eight to 16 inches of rain were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches possible. Other parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana could see 5 to 10 inches over the coming days.
"Listen to local weather alerts and heed local advisories about the right and safe thing to do, and you'll make it through this storm just like you've had many other storms," Abbott said during a news conference in Houston.
Nicholas was headed toward the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Harvey. That storm made landfall in the middle Texas coast then stalled for four days, dropping more than 60 inches of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths, including 36 in the Houston area.
But University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said he expects that Nicholas "will be magnitudes less than Harvey in every regard."
The worry with Nicholas will be how slowly it moves. Storms are moving slower in recent decades, and Nicholas could get stuck between two other weather systems, said hurricane researcher Jim Kossin of The Climate Service.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Sunday night, ahead of the storm's arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year's Hurricane Laura and historic flooding.
"The most severe threat to Louisiana is in the southwest portion of the state, where recovery from Hurricane Laura and the May flooding is ongoing," Edwards said.
The storm was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago.
Across Louisiana, almost 120,000 customers remained without power Monday morning, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only four other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.
Information for this article was contributed by Jill Bleed and Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press.