A status report on the Visual Science Lab Headquarters and the safety of our personnel...

First, I want to thank all the readers who got in touch to make sure we were okay here at VSL during and after the epic rains we've had both this weekend and last. We got about 8 inches of rain on Friday morning between midnight and 10 a.m. but other parts of Austin, including the airport, got up to 16 inches in the space of just two hours! Whole neighborhoods were evacuated and flooding was widespread. It was a bad coincidence that we'd had 16 inches of rainfall the weekend before because the ground was too saturated to soak up any of the new rainfall and the water had no where to go but where it was led by gravity.

Fortunately, our house and our offices are located in the Westlake Hills area which is west of downtown and across the lake. We are 690 feet above the base water level of Austin so we are immune from most catastrophic flooding. We are mostly dealing with spots of nuisance flooding where water is coming down the grade from the properties just above us and is jumping the gutters out in the front of our house. If the rains comes down too quickly it sometimes overwhelms the French drain on one wall of the studio and causes water to seep through the masonry and onto the floor.

The main house is never in danger of flooding and, after having lived here for nearly twenty years I'm pretty confident that we don't need to worry about the house proper. The floor in the office is concrete with dense foam tiles laid on top. These tiles are interlocking and easily removable and replaceable; and not expensive. If I get water on the floor of the office I use a wet vacuum, designed for sucking up liquids safely, to remove the water and then, when the weather changes (general in a day or so) I take the tiles outside and let them dry in the sun. The vacuum is plugged into a GFI plug and should be safe to use even in standing water as long as the unit isn't submerged.

All camera equipment is store in rolling tool cabinets that stand eight inches above the floor and all other gear; from backgrounds to light stands, is stored on Metro shelving with the bottom-most shelves set at about 12 inches. Even plugs and power strips are positioned on blocks of dense foam that keep them well above the 1/8th inch of spreading water we get on occasion. Our flooding is more of an inconvenience than a real danger and, so far the wet floor has only happened, at most, once a year; on average.

The real danger would come from driving though the low water crossings that dot Austin. A number of people are drowned each year in central Texas trying to drive through rapid water and being swept away in their vehicles. We're a bunch of sissies. If it looks dangerous we're quick to re-schedule shoots because no shoot is more important than our safety or the safety of our clients. A side issue is that even without danger of drowning, etc. the traffic in Austin comes to a screeching halt with any weather event and it can take hours to get several miles, even on the major highways.

The house and studio have brand new, 40 year roofs on them; installed last month. The gutters are clean and the French drains near the studio are usually functional. Nothing in life is guaranteed but we're feeling pretty safe and mostly dry over here.

Our hearts go out to the people who have been flooded out both in May and now this weekend. We are suggesting that locals can do the most good for those effected by contributing money to the local Red Cross chapter or a similar charity that helps provide emergency aid and shelter to displaced families.

To keep this somewhat photographic....when I went out to shoot some shots of the raging waters at a nearby low water crossing I made sure to take a water resistant lens and camera body. My choice? The Olympus OMD EM-5.2 with a Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 lens. Like the Nikon D750 last weekend, the Olympus spent about an hour in moderate to driving rain and has suffered no ill effects. As I am not a competent weather photographer the images were not very inspiring. That's why I decided to erase them and start over fresh next time.

Thanks for all the good wishes and the concerns for our well being. I appreciated hearing from so many VSL readers. Have a safe week ahead.


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Studio Dog! How has he
handled the storm?

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks for asking. Studio Dog was very brave. She kept watch on the storms from the inside of her favorite closet, inside the house. Not wanting the rain, thunder and lightning to know she was observing she hid behind a row of my shirts in that closet and pretended to be shivering... She is fine today.