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May 27th, 2022:

We won’t know the official status of the two super close runoffs until next week

The CD28 race is not done with us.

Jessica Cisneros, the progressive immigration attorney trailing longtime Laredo congressman Henry Cuellar by 177 votes in a blockbuster South Texas runoff, said Thursday that ballots are still being counted and a final tally likely will not be available until after Memorial Day.

“We are within reach to go on and win this thing,” Cisneros said. “There’s still a lot up in the air right now.”

Cisneros said her campaign has been told by elections offices that there are still “hundreds” of uncounted mail-in and provisional ballots across the district and that many will not be counted until after the holiday weekend.

Her campaign has also urged voters who mailed in ballots to check whether they were rejected and has set up a call for those whose were. Cisneros said the hotline has been “ringing nonstop all day since yesterday when we put out that call.”

“Because the race is so, so close and the margin is very close, we need to make sure that everyone who casted a ballot gets their ballot counted,” she said.

Cuellar declared victory Tuesday night in the race, which drew national attention and millions of dollars in political contributions.

“The votes are in, the margin will hold,” Cuellar tweeted at the time. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Cisneros’ claims that hundreds of ballots are still out.

I’d like to hear the status of the vote counting from election officials rather than one of the candidates, but I can believe that there are still mail votes being counted. I don’t know if it’s still possible to do something about a rejected mail ballot at this point. I’m sure the lawyers will sort that one out.

Meanwhile, in CD15:

It’s been a nail-biting race for the congressional District 15 runoff election between Democrats Ruben Ramirez and Michelle Vallejo.

More than 24 hours after polls closed, it’s unclear who will face off against Republican Monica De La Cruz in November.

Both Ramirez and Vallejo have sent statements saying it’s too soon to consider a virtual winner.

For now, election departments in counties within District 15 have to count mail-in ballots, votes from abroad and provisional ballots.

“In 15, without question, we’re going to have to wait until at least next week to have a good idea about who the winner is,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

As noted before, the vote will be canvassed on Wednesday, and the official final result will be posted on Thursday. That may not be the end of it, of course.

On that subject:

In the 15th District, Vallejo came out of election night with a 23-vote lead, and both she and Ramirez agreed it was too close to call. At least two counties — Hidalgo and Jim Wells — have since updated their results, changing her lead to 27 votes. But like in Cuellar’s race, a final resolution likely will not come into focus until early next week.

[…]

A timeline is now playing out at the county level where outstanding ballots can still be counted. Mail ballots that were postmarked by 7 p.m. Tuesday could still be counted by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The deadline for military and overseas ballots is Tuesday, May 31, a day later than usual due to Memorial Day. And then counties have until Thursday to finalize their results and report them to the state.

A candidate can request a recount if their margin is less than 10% of the votes received by their opponent. Both Cisneros and Ramirez are well within that, though candidates typically wait until all the outstanding ballots are counted before deciding whether to pursue a recount.

Not much to do now except have patience.

Checking in again on the wastewater

COVID levels keep creeping up.

After the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 hit 1 million deaths on Monday, new data shows numbers on the rise again.

The latest Houston Health Department wastewater results from May 9 show levels are now higher than they were in July of 2020.

The viral load on May 9 was 127 percent higher in comparison to July 6, 2020.

The July 2020 readings serve as a baseline for wastewater testing, since that was during the summer surge of cases.

The positivity rate in Houston is also now at 8 percent. At the end of March, Houston’s wastewater positivity rate was 2 percent.

Since the results are delayed, levels are likely higher now.

Houston Methodist is also reporting a rise in cases over the last two weeks.

[…]

“We have also seen our first cases of BA.4 and BA.5, which we will continue to monitor, since literature suggests these variants escape immunity from previous Omicron infection,” [Dr. Wesley Long of Houston Methodist] tweeted. “Vaccines are still our best defense against COVID-19 along with masking and distancing.”

Long also says while the wastewater levels are nearly 30 percent higher than the July 2020 surge, that the public shouldn’t be fearful, but shouldn’t ignore the trend either.

“The bottom line is, the amount of virus in the community is going up,” Long said. “That’s one thing we know for sure. I wouldn’t be worried, but I would be paying attention.”

There was a story in the Sunday print edition of the Chron about the Houston wastewater tracking, with a byline from the NY Times, but I could not find it online. Note that this KHOU story reports on the May 9 virus level in two different ways, saying that the viral load is “127 percent higher” and also that it is “nearly 30 percent higher”. The latter is correct – the Houston COVID dashboard says that the COVID load is “127% in comparison to the July 2020 level”, which is to say up 27%. Pay attention in those math classes, people.

At this point, until there is a new type of vaccine, we have what we’re going to get. I heard on the CityCast Houston podcast that the vax level in Harris County is about 67%, which is better than it used to be but still too low to really slow things down. What we can do is whatever we can to get the unvaxxed people in our lives to get the shots, and we can get boosted – one if we’re under 50, two if we’re over. Get your kids boosted, which also very much means getting them vaxxed in the first place – only about 30% of kids in this range have had two shots, which is just madness to me. Wear your masks when in indoor public places again, and avoid needless indoor public gatherings. You have to take care of yourself now, so do it. Until it gets worse – and I still hope it won’t – this is the best you can do.

UPDATE: The May 16 numbers are now on the dashboard, and they show that we are at 170% of the July 6, 2020 level. Not great!

This could be a really bad hurricane season

Anytime the year 2005 is used as a point of comparison, it’s bad news.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, and the Gulf of Mexico is already warmer than average. Even more worrying is a current of warm tropical water that is looping unusually far into the Gulf for this time of year, with the power to turn tropical storms into monster hurricanes.

It’s called the Loop Current, and it’s the 800-pound gorilla of Gulf hurricane risks.

When the Loop Current reaches this far north this early in the hurricane season – especially during what’s forecast to be a busy season – it can spell disaster for folks along the Northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.

If you look at temperature maps of the Gulf of Mexico, you can easily spot the Loop Current. It curls up through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, into the Gulf of Mexico, and then swings back out through the Florida Strait south of Florida as the Florida Current, where it becomes the main contributor to the Gulf Stream.

When a tropical storm passes over the Loop Current or one of its giant eddies – large rotating pools of warm water that spin off from the current – the storm can explode in strength as it draws energy from the warm water.

This year, the Loop Current looks remarkably similar to the way it did in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans. Of the 27 named storms that year, seven became major hurricanes. Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year and became two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record.

I have been monitoring ocean heat content for more than 30 years as a marine scientist. The conditions I’m seeing in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern. One prominent forecast anticipates 19 tropical storms – 32% more than average – and nine hurricanes. The Loop Current has the potential to supercharge some of those storms.

It’s been a super warm month of May, so the conditions have not abated any. There’s only so much we can do about this right now except be prepared and hope for the best. At least now you know.

UPDATE: Just in time for more season predictions.

Hurricane season along the Atlantic Ocean is expected to be more active than usual this year, with a higher probability that major storms will make landfall in Texas and other areas along the eastern coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1, and the national agency’s findings are consistent with other scientific organizations’ predictions. According to NOAA, there is a 65% chance the hurricane season will be more active than usual and only a 10% chance that this year will have below-average activity.

NOAA expects this season, which extends until Nov. 30, will have 14 to 21 named storms. Six to 10 could become hurricanes — including three to six major ones with winds of 111 mph or higher. The average season has 14 named storms.

If the prediction comes true, 2022 will be the seventh consecutive above-average season for Atlantic hurricanes in the U.S.

Factors like La Niña, warmer sea surface temperatures and an enhanced West African monsoon will all likely contribute to an above-average season this year, NOAA officials said. Climate change has contributed to make those phenomenons more intense, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said Tuesday.

[…]

A Colorado State University study similarly found that probabilities for major hurricanes this season are higher than average, with a 71% chance of at least one major hurricane across the continental U.S. coastline, compared to an average 52% chance. The study also found that the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, has a 46% chance of at least one major hurricane this season, which is 16% higher than last century’s average.

“Essentially everything is pointing toward an active Atlantic season,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University. “It doesn’t guarantee one but it makes it quite a bit more likely.”

Nielsen-Gammon said anywhere along the coast that’s less than 25 feet above sea level is potentially vulnerable to a storm surge, and that hurricane-force winds can be felt in Texas even hundreds of miles inland.

As I said before, maybe we need to redefine what an “average” season is now. In the meantime, get your supplies and have an evacuation plan in mind. And hope for the best.

Watson accusers get their say

You can see them saying it.

The $230 million contract the Cleveland Browns gave to former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was a “big screw you” to the 22 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

After Houston traded Watson in March, Cleveland gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. The way the new contract was structured, all but $1 million of Watson’s 2022 salary was put into bonuses so he would not lose that money if he were to be suspended by the NFL.

“It’s just like a big ‘screw you,’” Ashley Solis told HBO’s Soledad O’Brien as part of a “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” episode that was to air at 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday . “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”

Said Ashley Hayes, another accuser interviewed on the show: “It was sick to me. I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”

Watson is facing 22 civil suits that accuse him of sexual assault and harassment during massage appointments. Two Houston-area grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

The NFL is still investigating and has made no ruling on a possible suspension for 2022. Watson did not play with the Texans in 2021.

There’s an embedded video in the story if you want a preview. As Sean Pendergast notes, we may be getting close to an NFL decision about whatever discipline they will impose on Watson. He was in Texas last week to meet with NFL officials, with the general impression being that the league is wrapping up its investigation. (Watson has other reasons to come back to Texas as well.) We’ll know soon enough. More from Pendergast about the HBOMax show here.