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Hurricane Claudette was the third named storm and first hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. Claudette formed on July 8 while in the eastern Carribean Sea. It moved west, then northwest, briefly strengthening to a hurricane in the central Carribean Sea before weakening back to a tropical storm. It struck the Yucatan Peninsula, then ultimately struck near Port O'Connor as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Claudette dissipated on July 17. Claudette was a long-lived tropical cyclone for July. In addition, it was the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States in the month of July since Hurricane Danny of the 1997 season. Claudette's intensity and track forecasts were uncertain, which led to widespread and often unnecessary preparations.

Claudette caused $181,000,000 (2003 USD) in damage and killed 3 people; 1 direct, 2 indirect.

Claudette nearing its Texas landfall
FormationJuly 8, 2003
Dissipation July 17, 2003
Highest winds 90 mph
Lowest pressure 979 mbar
Deaths 1 direct, 2 indirect
Damages $181,000,000 (2003 USD)
Areas affected Windward Islands, Jamaica, Yucatan Peninsula, Texas

Meteorological History

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On July 1, a tropical wave exited the coast of Africa. It moved westard and steadily organized as it did so. By July 7, the wave had resembled a tropical depression, although a flight into the system by reconnaissance aircraft as well as data via surface reports indicated the wave simply remained a low-pressure area rather than a tropical depression. The wave produced tropical storm force winds in the Windward Islands on July 8, but it did not acquire tropical characteristics until it reached the eastern Carribean Sea that same day, where it was sufficiently organized to be called Tropical Storm Claudette. Claudette skipped depression status because it already had winds of tropical storm force upon becoming a tropical cyclone. By early on July 9, while located south of Puerto Rico, Claudette quickly strengthened, with its winds reaching 70 mph, just shy of hurricane status. Possibly due to its fast foward motion, Claudette weakened as it became disorganized. Conditions briefly became more favorable over the central Carribean Sea, and on July 10, Claudette attained hurricane status for six hours. Shortly thereafter, upper-level wind shear became prohibitive and as a result, Claudette weakened back to a tropical storm. In response to a weakness in the subtropical ridge, Claudette turned northwest. Claudette made its first landfall near Puerto Morelos in the Yucatan Peninsula on July 11 as a tropical storm with winds of 60 mph. Claudette then emerged into the Gulf of Mexico, wobbling northwest as it did so. During this time, Claudette gradually re-strengthened as upper-level winds gradually decreased, and on July 14, Claudette became a hurricane once again. Just prior to landfall, Claudette rapidly intensified, with its winds reaching 90 mph. In addition, Claudette's foward speed increased and it moved in a more westerly direction, striking near Port O'Connor, Texas on July 15 as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Residents along and inland of the central Texas coast were caught off guard both by its intensity and its time of arrival. The hurricane was projected to make landfall in the evening hours of July 15, but instead came ashore before noon. Furthermore, some initial estimates suggested that Claudette had reached Category 2 status, with sustained winds of up to 100 mph; these were based on unofficial observations which were not backed up by official data.

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Hurricane Claudette at landfall.

After landfall, unlike most tropical cyclones, Claudette lasted for 24 hours as a tropical storm, and Hurricane Warnings were issued several counties inland, and wind gusts reached 83 mph at the Victoria Regional Airport. Claudette's maintaining tropical storm status for 24 hours after landfall is very unusual for such a weak storm, much less for even a very strong tropical cyclone. Claudette lost its low-level circulation over Chihuahua on July 17, but its rainfall and upper-level circulation persisted as they continued into the Pacific Ocean.

Preparations

Mexico

37 hours prior to Claudette's Yucatan Peninsula landfall, Mexican officials issued a Tropical Storm Warning from Chetumal and Cabo Catoche, Quintana Roo. The Tropical Storm Warning was upgraded to a Hurricane Warning about a day before landfall, but it was downgraded when Claudette weakened 13 hours before its Yucatan Peninsula landfall. The government of Mexico declared a state of emergency in the projected path of the storm, and ordered the evacuation of 1,500 residents in Quintana Roo. Residents remained calm during the evacuation. Tourists left nightclubs for supermarkets in order to stock up on supplies, as well as beer, which was banned at midnight. In addition, schools were used as shelters, and police forced tourists to remain in their hotels.

Gulf Coast

On July 13, just two days before Claudette's landfall along the Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Watch from Brownsville, Texas to Port O'Connor, Texas. The next day, a Hurricane Warning was posted from Baffin Bay, Texas to High Island, Texas, and a Tropical Storm Warning existed from High Island to Intercoastal City, Louisiana. When it became clear that Louisiana would not be significantly affected by Claudette, all warnings were discontinued in that state. In Texas, officials in Galveston County issued a voluntary evacuation for western Galveston Island and Jamaica Beach 24 hours prior to the cyclone's landfall. The Emergency Phone Notification System notified citizens in the evening to avoid evacuating during the night. Many citizens heeded the evacuation suggestion, some of whom remembered the flooding from Tropical Storm Frances five years before. Also, Claudette's constant variations in its path caused uncertainty regarding both the strength and the exact point Claudette would make its final landfall. Because of this, no shelters were open during the passage of the storm, which forced residents to ride out the hurricane.

Claudette also affected the oil industry. Chevron, Shell Oil, Marathon Oil, Unocal Corporation, and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation all limited production and evacuated many of their workers. Chevron, which evacuated more than 1,800 workers in the Gulf of Mexico, lost about 30% of its daily production, which included 92,000 barrels of oil and 236 million cubic feet of natural gas each day. Shell limited their crude production to about 15% of their pre-storm levels, and daily natural gas production dropped 96%. Similarly, Marathon's oil output during the storm shrunk to 2% of normal production, and its natural gas output dropped to 1.5%. Unocal temporarily closed 23 rigs, and Anadarko shut down 11 rigs for the storm's duration. In total, the storm shut down 21% of the Gulf of Mexico's crude oil production and 18% of its natural gas output.

Impact

Because of its minimal strength, Claudette caused little damage outside of Texas. Total damage from the storm is estimated to be at $180,000,000 (2003 USD). In addition, Claudette killed three people; one directly, and two indirectly. One of those indirect deaths occured when a man had a heart attack while surfing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

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Rainfall totals from Hurricane Claudette.

St. Lucia

As a tropical wave, Claudette produced heavy rainfall and gusty winds in St. Lucia. The George F. L. Charles Airport in Castries recorded a wind gust of 52 mph, and other portions of the island experienced nearly horizontal rain from the strong winds produced by the wave. Along the northern and eastern portions of the island, strong winds ripped off roofs and downed trees across roadways. Total damage was light, amounting to $1.1 million (2003 USD) on the island.

Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, Claudette's outer rainbands brought rainfall as high as 3 inches to the capital city of Santo Domingo. Winds gusted as high as 45 mph, knocking down trees, sign posts, as well as iron roofs. The flooding in metropolitan areas blocked traffic for cars as well as pedestrians. Also, banana and other fruit plantations in the southwestern portion of the country experienced significant damage, but exact damage totals are not known.

Jamaica

In Jamaica, Claudette produced wind gusts as high as 45 mph at Montego Bay. Forecasters predicted high waves, high tide, and rains up to 6 inches would occur on the island, although the exact post-storm totals of rain are not known. Many fisherman on the island moved their boats off the water and to safety, and a cruise line diverted three ships away from the storm's path.

Cayman Islands

In the Cayman Islands, Claudette was 165 miles away at its point of closest approach. It produced rainfall totals of 1-3 inches. Along the south side of Grand Cayman, the storm produced waves as high as 10 feet, but the western side of the island received little rainfall. In addition, the storm brought winds of 35-40 mph to Grand Cayman, which caused minor tree damage but little else.

Yucatan Peninsula

Along the Yucatan Peninsula, Claudette produced high waves in Cancún, but caused only light damage. While moving over the peninsula, the storm produced moderate rainfall, reaching 3.22 inches at Cancún. The winds were moderate, causing the Cancún International Airport to delay several flights, although there were no cancellations. The storm sunk a few boats and flooded a few streets in the city of Cancún, but damage was minor in the Yucatan Peninsula despite this.

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Claudette at its Yucatan Peninsula landfall.

Texas

In Texas, where Claudette made its final landfall, it produced a storm surge of 5.3 feet in Galveston. Freeport reported a storm tide of 9.15 feet from the storm. The storm dumped moderately heavy rainfall across southern Texas, peaking at 6.5 inches in Tilden. On Matagorda Island, the local weather station reported sustained winds of 75 mph, which was the only official report of sustained hurricane-force winds in Texas. However, several offshore buyos reported sustained winds of up to 90 mph, and one unofficial observation in the city of Seadrift recorded sustained winds of 96 mph. This report would suggest that Claudette was a low-end Category 2 hurricane, although the data from hurricane hunter aircraft contradicted this by reporting a weaker storm. Claudette produced significant beach erosion from High Island to Freeport, although the large geo-tubes reduced the erosion on Galveston Island as well as the Bolivar Peninsula.

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Beach erosion from Hurricane Claudette.

Also, Claudette's outer rainbands spawned two tornadoes in Texas, with one reaching F1 status and causing some damaging to several buildings in the city of Palacios, and the other tornado damaged homes in Port Lavaca.

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Overview of the damage in Palacios.

Widespread flooding as well as gusty winds destroyed 204 homes along the southeastern Texas coastline, most of which occured in Matagorda County. In addition, the winds damaged 1,407 homes, with 144 of them being damaged severely. The strong winds also affected 147 businesses, of which 64 were severely damaged or destroyed. The strong winds downed numerous power lines, which left around 74,000 residents without power after the storm had passed. Total damage from Claudette in Texas reached $180,000,000 (2003 USD) and Claudette also killed one person via a fallen tree. In addition, the storm was responsible for one indirect death when a tree fell on a person during the aftermath of the storm.

Lack of Retirement

Because damage was not extreme, the name Claudette was not retired during the Spring of 2004 by the World Meteorological Organization. It is on the list of names to be used for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

2003 Atlantic hurricane season

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Claudette_%282003%29

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