Remembering Allen--25 Years Later
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In this era of tremendous tropical activity, we go back to a time when powerful hurricanes were far fewer in the Atlantic Basin. As a matter of fact, Hurricane Allen, which is the focus of this article, was the first Atlantic tropical cyclone of the decade of the 1980s, and last hurricane to make landfall in the United States for three years before Hurricane Alicia struck the Galveston area in 1983. Allen, which was the first named storm, hurricane, and major hurricane of the 1980 season, carved a path of destruction from the Lesser Antilles, through the Caribbean, into the Gulf of Mexico, to Southern Texas.

Allen, which is ranked all time as one of the most powerful storms ever to roam the Atlantic with its winds crossing the Category Five threshold three times during its lifetime. The lowest pressure recorded in the storm's life happens to be the third lowest pressure on record in the Atlantic behind Hurricane Gilbert (1988) and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. While the storm did not make landfall in Texas as a Category Five storm, it was still a major hurricane with wind gusts as high as 129 mph at Port Mansfield, Texas.



Allen's Storm Facts

Besides having a very low pressure like Gilbert, Allen had another similarity in that it followed a similar path through the Caribbean. Forming near the Southern Windwards, and moving through them as it followed a southerly track that carried it near Jamaica and into the Yucatan before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico, and striking in Texas. The only difference was that Gilbert's path was a bit farther south as that hurricane struck in Northern Mexico, near Matamoros.

Another similarity Allen had with Gilbert, was size. The vast storm was still able to generate gale force winds in the Florida Keys despite being south of Cuba in the Western Caribbean. Gilbert was large enough at one point to be able to cover the entire state of Florida with 100 mph winds according to news coverage during that storm. Another key difference between Gilbert and Allen is that Gilbert did hit land several times while out in the Caribbean including Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Both were very deadly storms as they each killed hundreds of people in the Caribbean. Haiti was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Allen as the storm pounded the island of Hispanola, leaving more than 200 people dead. Allen, despite its power and fury, only ended up killing 24 people in the United States with seven dying in Texas, and another 17 perishing in Louisiana. In addition, the fact that Allen struck in largely uninhabited area, it only caused some $1 billion dollars in damage (1980 dollars). The tremendous storm forced the evacuation of some 300,000 people from Southern Texas.

The 1980s were a period marked by a dearth in tropical storm and hurricane activity as rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa as well as sea surface temperatures and upper level winds in the Atlantic, were below normal averages, and well below the optimum levels we've seen in recent years. The period from 1970 to 1994 represented a down cycle for Atlantic Hurricanes despite the fact that there were many memorable storms during this period including Celia (1970), Agnes (1972), Carmen (1974), Eloise (1975), Belle (1976), Anita (1977), David (1979), Frederick (1979), Alicia (1983), Diana (1984), Elena (1985), Gloria (1985), Kate (1985), Gilbert (1988), Hugo (1989), Bob (1991), Andrew (1992), and Gordon (1994).


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Gilbert Rolls Through Jamaica

Allen, which had its name retired in 1981, and ironically replaced by the name of another historic hurricane, Andrew, formed originally as a tropical disturbance in the Eastern Atlantic on July 31st, 1980. Within 24 hours, it was a tropical depression, and by 36 hours, it was already a tropical storm. With no significant obstacles in front of it, Allen rapidly intensified into a hurricane some 12 hours later, and was actually a major hurricane when it reached the Southern Windward islands on August 4th. It would transverse much of the Caribbean over the next several days.

Moving through the Caribbean, Allen would fluctuate between Category Four and Category Five intensity with pressures dropping as low as 911 mb, or 26.89 inches of Hg south of Puerto Rico on August 5th, and 899 mb or 26.55 inches of Hg when it was near the Yucatan Peninsula on August 7th. Sustained winds were as high as 185 to 190 mph despite having to endure difficulties from interacting with the rugged terrains of both Haiti and Jamaica. However, the eye of Allen did not cross any land from the time it passed over St. Lucia in the Windward Islands until it made landfall north of Brownsville, Texas on August 9th.

Prior to finally hitting land in Southern Texas, Allen had reached Category Five status for a record third time as its pressure fell to 909 mb, or 26.84 inches of Hg. However, shortly before hitting the coast, Allen showed it was merciful, and weakened to a Category Three Hurricane with maximum sustained winds falling to 115 mph, and its central pressure rising to 945 mb, or 27.91 inches. Nevertheless, Hurricane Allen was still able to generate a storm surge of up to 12 feet on South Padre Island, and produce enough rainfall to end a devastating drought in Texas.

Another similarity Allen had with Gilbert, was size. The vast storm was still able to generate gale force winds in the Florida Keys despite being south of Cuba in the Western Caribbean. Gilbert was large enough at one point to be able to cover the entire state of Florida with 100 mph winds according to news coverage during that storm. Another key difference between Gilbert and Allen is that Gilbert did hit land several times while out in the Caribbean including Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula.


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The 1980s--A Down Time For Hurricanes

Allen as well as the rest of the 1980 season started the decade of the 80s on a strong note in terms of tropical activity in the Atlantic. The 1980 season had an above average year with 11 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. Thankfully, Allen would be the only storm to make landfall in the United States. Hurricane Allen was also the first of three storms to reach the elusive Category Five stage in the decade. Gilbert and Hugo (1989) were the other two. There were a total of eight storms to reach this optimum level of hurricane intensity during the period of 1970 to 1994.

These storms were Celia (1970), Edith (1971), Anita (1977), David (1979), Allen (1980), Gilbert (1988), Hugo (1989), and Andrew (1992). In the ten years since this period, there have been a total of three Category Five Hurricanes including Mitch (1998), Isabel (2003), and Ivan (2004). However, these past ten years have produced as many Cat Five storms during the entire decade of the 1980s, and all three lasted at that intensity quite a while. Mitch lasted some 36 straight hours at Category Five while both Isabel and Ivan lasted some 30 hours straight, and equaled Allen's mark of sustaining Cat Five strength on three different occasions.


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