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Citywide Flooding Raises Questions Ahead Of Super Bowl LI

Last week for the third time in a year, much of Houston shut down due to flooding. The city is so far from solving the problem, Houstonians can’t even meet to discuss it because they’re dealing with flooded streets. With all eyes on Houston for Super Bowl LI, what if this happens on the big day?

Houston Flood

Flooding is not a word the Super Bowl Host Committee wants to hear, but something it's prepared for. Michael Walter, spokesman for Houston's emergency management office, told the Houston Chronicle the city's emergency center will be on alert status throughout the 10 days of Super Bowl festivities. The city will have increased law enforcement and weather forecasting staffing during that time, including stationing a rep from the National Weather Service in the emergency center. 

Houston Weather Traffic

The city is ready to deploy street barricades at known problem locations, which are mostly north of Downtown, in the Heights and Near Northside area around White Oak. 

The biggest danger to game day activities will be Brays Bayou, which runs by NRG Park. Last year the bayou overflowed during the Tax Day Flood. The project to fix the bayou is years behind.

Houston Flood
Houston flooding in 2008

An extensive network of warning systems is in place to alert attendees to storms or flooding. Francisco Sanchez, spokesman for Harris County's Office of Emergency Management, said the county will send out alerts through a special NFL app. Electronic signs along highways will also be used if necessary.

If roads become completely flooded, officials have prepped backup routes. Much of the contingency plan is based off plans for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that happens every year in March.

Nick Massad III

As outside counsel to the Houston Super Bowl Committee, Winstead PC’s David Staas has witnessed the contingency planning firsthand. He told the crowd at Bisnow’s Houston Hospitality Boom event that contingency plans exist for the entire week of festivities, not just the big game. GRB, Discovery Green, NRG, and local and city officials are all on the same page.

Houston Hospitality

Weather contingency plans are becoming more acceptable to the NFL, allowing the Super Bowl to move all across the country. Z-Resorts president Matthew Nuss remembers when the Super Bowl was a love affair between Miami, LA and NOLA. A game that takes place in the middle of winter is never easy to plan. Super Bowls in the far north like NYC or next year's in Minneapolis show the NFL’s increasing willingness to rely on contingency plans.

Even hosting them in the south doesn’t always protect against weather. In 2011 an ice storm affected activities around Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, injuring some workers and visitors. The last time Houston hosted the Super Bowl, it rained the entire time, as American Liberty’s Nick Massad III pointed out. The game still went off, and visitors had a good time.

In its 50-year history, the Super Bowl has never been moved or postponed because of weather. Rain or shine, Houston will be ready for the Falcons and Patriots fans.

CORRECTION, Jan. 23, 3:48 P.M. ET: The story was updated with the correct name of Brays Bayou