AUSTIN, Texas — Shortly after the powerful winds of Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Texas Coast last week, the flow of the Neches River slowed and slowed and then reversed entirely.
Although it might sound slightly mythical, last week wasn’t the first time a river’s been known to reverse course. It wasn’t even the first time the Neches River specifically has been recorded doing so.
The river, which flows more than 400 miles south through Texas before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, flowed backward in what the U.S. Geological Survey called a “far more dramatic” fashion during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Last week, right before Category 4 storm Hurricane Laura touched down, the Neches River was flowing at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second, the USGS reported. Under normal conditions its flow measures around 2,000-3,000 cubic feet per second.
For comparison, the river could fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in 30 seconds normally and fill the same pool in six seconds right before Hurricane Laura hit, USGS reports.
The water and 150 mph winds brought by the storm pushed ahead of the Neches River, causing its flow to slow and then reverse, moving the opposite direction at more than 7,500 cubic square feet per second. The river flowed this direction for 12 hours and then resumed its normal direction.
This sort of reversal has been known to occur both temporarily and permanently due to weather events, like hurricanes, or more lasting geological or climate changes.
Hurricane Laura reportedly had a similar, although less dramatic, effect on the Mississippi River. The top layer of surface water was seen flowing in the opposite direction, but USGS river gauges still showed the river following its regular course.
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