Hurricane Claudette became the third storm of the 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season after developing in the Caribbean. Although, it didn't develop as rapidly as it could of in the Gulf of Mexico, Claudette did make one last attempt to pack a bigger punch prior to landfall in Southeastern Texas.
Luckily for Texas, it struck in a relatively low populated area. Nevertheless, it still packed a wallop for places such as Galveston, particularly those areas not protected by the seawall. Meanwhile, places such as Port Lavaca were hit quite hard by the storm as Claudette pounded the coastal city with gusts up to 104 mph.
Sustained winds reached beyond minimal hurricane force at 80 to 85 mph. The storm ended up responsible for two deaths, and left some 74,000 people without power. Claudette eventually headed inland where it dissipated to a low pressure area that rolled almost all the way to Southern California before it finally went away.
Hurricane Claudette was originally a very strong tropical wave that developed in the Western Atlantic. After going through some ups and downs in the Central and Eastern Caribbean for a few days, Claudette became the third named storm of the 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season on July 8th, 2003.
At that point, Tropical Storm Claudette had winds of 50 mph, and was moving very rapidly to the West at 29 mph. Located some 415 miles to the East-Southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, Claudette was poorly defined, and its central pressure was still a bit high at 1006 mb, or 29.71 inches of Hg.
The rapid motion to the West was a big problem for the storm as it tried to intensify, However, by the middle of the next day, July 9th, 2003, it had winds of 65 mph, and was forecasted to become a hurricane soon. And, by the middle of the afternoon on the second day, July 10th, 2003, winds grew even further to 70 mph. Pressure had dropped almost four tenths of an inch to 29.32 inches of Hg.
As it approached the Yucatan Peninsula though, Claudette began to act erratic in response to a trough that had positioned itself over the Southeastern United States. The shearing winds from the trough caused the storm to weaken to 55 mph winds by midday on Friday. Early, Saturday morning, July 12th, 2003, the storm was in the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico some 450 miles to the East-Southeast of Brownsville, Texas. Winds were down to 50 mph, and central pressure was back up to 1007 mb, or 29.74 inches of Hg.
The trough was also making Claudette suffer in another aspect, and that was in terms of its forward motion. By the late afternoon on Sunday, July 13th, 2003, Claudette had stalled. Winds and pressure changes were indicative of strengthening though as it now had wins of 60 mph, and a central pressure reading of 29.44 inches of Hg, which was a three tenths pressure drop. The spinning of the storm was already beginning to stir up the waves along the Texas Coast as swells were creating dangerous surf conditions.
On Monday, while Claudette was still some 250 miles away from the Texas coast, waves were still coming in as high as 12 feet above normal. Now with winds of 65 mph, the storm was making an attempt to strengthen into a hurricane, which it did by 12 AM CDT on Tuesday morning, July 15th.
Even though Claudette had strengthened into a hurricane, and made a beeline for the Central Texas Gulf Coast, it was apparently going to spare the Galveston area from its concentrated storm winds. Galveston, which has seen its share of hurricanes throughout history including the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, had last seen a major hurricane hit there in August, 1983 when Hurricane Alicia came ashore while shattering glass windows on office skyscrapers in downtown Houston, Texas with its 125 mph winds.
Despite the fact, that Galveston was spared the brunt of the storm, it still felt tropical storm force winds even though the storm made landfall some 100 miles away. There were also 8 foot waves crashing over the sea well onto the nearby highway while waterspouts spun offshore. Meanwhile, places such as Port O'Connor and Port Lavaca were getting hit much harder. Fifteen counties were being impacted by the storm as tropical storm force winds extended some 140 miles, and rainfall ranged anywhere between 5 to 8 inches.
According to a report filed by John Zarrella of CNN, any of these areas were still recovering from tremendous flooding that affected some 41 counties in the Lone Star State last year. Waves and surge were also causing problems as one shrimp boat had sank near Sabine Pass while the storm surge had left numerous people stranded in places such as Surfside Beach and Freeport. Claudette was somewhat merciful as it only left behind three deaths.
A woman in Victoria, and a 13 year old boy in Jourdanton were both killed by falling trees. There was also responsible for power outages that left some 74,000 people without power. Damage estimated are not available at this time although minor damage occurred on the island of St. Lucia in the Lesser Antilles due to heavy rains and gusty winds.
Reports had indicated that the storm only had 80 to 85 mph sustained winds while making landfall. However, Claudette seemed to be strengthening rapidly as it approached the coast. Wind gusts reached well over 90 mph, and in some cases over 100 mph. According to the July 2003 Monthly Summary by the National Hurricane Center, winds were sustained at 90 mph, which leaves it a few miles per hour short of a Category Two Hurricane according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
In order for a hurricane to reach Category Two intensity, it must have winds of at least 96 mph. So, in many ways, Claudette was much more than your average minimal hurricane. It also was a vast system that affected a large portion of the Texas coast. Waves were felt for hundreds of miles prior to the storm's landfall. Tropical storm force winds extended nearly 150 miles from the storm's center, and its reach could be felt in 15 Texas counties, which is a lot of real estate.
Even after the storm had moved far inland, and dissipated to a tropical low, its circulation held up quite well as it continued to churn to the West into Mexico and Southern Arizona. That was made possible by the ridge of high pressure spinning in the Four Corners area of the United States that was also responsible for hot and dry conditions in the Western United States. These hot and dry conditions created another season of devastating brush fires.
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