Coastal Flood Advisory

Will winds provide relief after a chemical fire burned out of control for days in Texas?

By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer
March 22, 2019, 2:15:26 PM EDT

Houston area fire

Firefighters battle a petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company Monday, March 18, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A chemical fire that started Sunday at Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park, Texas, and raged until Wednesday morning left a community concerned about a lingering plume of black smoke and toxic-smelling fumes all week.

“It’s very scary,” Houston resident Patricia Walker told Bloomberg. “I’m concerned for my granddaughter. They didn’t allow her to go outside because of the fumes.”

A benzene leak from the storage tank farm that was on fire prompted the city of Deer Park to issue a shelter-in-place alert Wednesday night that lasted almost until noon Thursday. Residents were “encouraged to stay indoors and bring your pets indoors. Keep all windows closed, turn off your air conditioning/heating systems and fans and close all vents and fireplace dampers.”

Even after lifting the alert, the city said, “The entities monitoring air quality in the area will continue to do so until the conclusion of the incident.”

Weather could end up helping the situation.

“Weather-wise, it would be better if the winds were blowing,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. “But the winds are not going to be moving that much over the next 24 hours. The winds will increase Friday afternoon."

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The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality estimated that the fire released 6.2 million pounds of carbon monoxide and thousands of pounds of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and toluene on the first day alone, according to Reuters.

The ash plume that rose above Houston and spread to at least five adjacent counties had dissipated by midday Wednesday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Unfortunately, Kottlowski said the community around the fire site is under the influence of an area of high pressure.

“That means the fumes that are around probably are not going to disperse as readily,” he said. “So there still could be some issues with that into noon Friday.

“But then after that, it looks like on Friday the surface winds start turning more out of the southeast and increase just enough to help mix it out,” Kottlowski said.

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