Monday, August 19, 2013

Thirty Year Anniversary Of Hurricane Alicia's Plastering Southeast Texas

Thirty years ago yesterday, Hurricane Alicia made landfall across Southeast Texas as a small but powerful major hurricane.  Its origins along the tail end of a cold front aren't uncommon in the Gulf of Mexico or even off of the Carolina coastline. Alicia developed from a complex of thunderstorms that originated along the front and as low pressure organized, high pressure aloft built over the Gulf Coast, forcing Alicia to take a slow, steady pace to the west.

Alicia's small size helped the storm organize from a tropical low to hurricane in about 36 hours, eventually sporting 115 mph winds (100 kt in the graphic above) at landfall in less than three days after the storm's advisories were initiated.  While it's not the fastest development in the Gulf with tropical systems, it's still an impressive, rapid rate of intensification that was achieved due to a favorable environment and the storm's smaller size.  It made landfall at peak intensity as it crossed the coastline about 25 miles southwest of Galveston, TX.

Alicia killed 21, with damage totals of at least $2.0 billion (1983 money). Alicia was the costliest hurricane to hit land since Hurricane Frederic in 1979 until Gilbert struck in 1988 (and the costliest to hit US soil between Frederic and Andrew in '92).  Alicia was the first storm for which the National Hurricane Center issued probability forecasts for landfall.

Some of the damage from Alicia has been uploaded into a YouTube video slide show.

Despite a relatively high pressure at landfall for a traditional Saffir Category 3 (landfall intensity of 962 millibars), the surrounding higher pressure environment around Alicia plus the storm's smaller size helped generate wind gusts that reached as high as 100 mph in Galveston (25 miles away from landfall point).

Alicia's quick intensification and high impact in Houston shows how quickly tropical systems can develop in a favorable environment and the potential for a high impact event if a storm makes landfall in a highly populated area.

More: Houston Chronicle (with photos)