Hurricane Erika was the fifth named storm and third hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. It formed on August 14 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. After forming, Erika moved west, then gradually turned to the west-southwest until its landfall in northeastern Mexico on August 16 as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Erika dissipated on August 17 over the mountains of Mexico. Operationally, Erika was not designated a hurricane by the National Hurricane Center. However, data in post-season analysis suggested that it was a Category 1 hurricane.

Erika caused $10,000 (2003 USD) in damage and killed 2 people.

Erika as a hurricane over Mexico
FormationAugust 14, 2003
Dissipation August 17, 2003
Highest winds 75 mph
Lowest pressure 986 mbar
Deaths 2 direct
Damages $10,000 (2003 USD)
Areas affectedFlorida, Mexico, Texas
Part of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season

Meteorological History


On August 8, a weak surface low detached itself from a frontal zone while located 1150 miles east of the island of Bermuda. The low moved southwest, and on August 9, it developed convection as it passed beneath a cold-core upper-level low. Both the surface low and the upper-level low turned to the west as it revolved around a common center. Late on August 11, the surface low developed into a trough while located 440 miles south of Bermuda. As the system continued swiftly to the west, much of the convection remained near the center of the upper-level low, which prevented the system from acquiring a closed surface circulation needed to become a tropical cyclone. On August 13, while located near the northwestern Bahamas, a significant increase in convection caused the upper-level low to build downwards towards the middle of the troposphere. This coincided with the development of an upper-level anticyclone. Early on August 14, the system developed a closed surface circulation while east of Key Largo, Florida, but it weakened due to the deep convection remaining north over the mid-level center. The mid-level storm continued to the west and crossed over Florida, and after emerging into the Gulf of Mexico on August 14, hurricane hunter aircraft found a poorly defined circulation center, although since the winds exceeded tropical storm force, it was upgraded to Tropical Storm Erika while located over the eastern Gulf of Mexico and it was located about 85 miles west of Fort Myers. Because of low vertical wind shear and well-defined upper-level outflow, as well as warm water temperatures, Erika continued to strengthen, as its circulation became better defined. An area of high pressure persisted over the South Central United States, which steered the tropical cyclone on an almost due westward track. On August 15, the convection in the storm organized into rainbands, and the storm developed an eye near its center, as its winds were approaching hurricane strength.

Erika on August 15.

On August 16, Erika turned west-southwest and attained hurricane status just prior to its landfall in Boca San Rafael, Tamaulipas, or about 40 miles south of the United States/Mexico border.


NEXRAD radar image of Erika making landfall in northeastern Mexico.

After landfall, Erika rapidly weakened over the Sierra Madre Oriental, and the cyclone dissipated early on August 17. However, the mid-level circulation of the storm remained intact as it headed across Mexico's mountains, and it led to the formation of an area of disturbed weather entering the Gulf of California on August 18. That area turned northwest and dissipated on August 20.

Operationally, Erika was not upgraded to a hurricane, but based on a persistent eye feature, as well as doppler radar estimates of surface winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center upgraded Erika to a 75 mph Category 1 hurricane in post-season analysis.


The threat of Erika's onslaught prompted the evacuation of 51 oil platforms and 3 oil rigs in the western Gulf of Mexico. The lack of production led to a loss of production of 8,708 barrels of oil per day and 173.14 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. On the day of its landfall, the lack of production led to 1,979 less barrels of oil for the day, or about 0.12% of the total daily production for the Gulf of Mexico, while the loss of 32 million cubic of feet of gas for the day was equivalent to 0.23% of the total production. Because of Erika's swift passage through the Gulf of Mexico, however, little impact was felt upon the operations of the oil rigs.

When Erika was located in the eastern Gulf of Mexico on August 15, the National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Watch as well as a Tropical Storm Warning from Brownsville, Texas to Baffin Bay, Texas. In addition to that, a Hurricane Watch was issued from Soto La Marina to the international border. Later that same day, when Erika began to strengthen, a Hurricane Warning was either issued or recommended from La Pesca, Mexico to Baffin Bay, Texas. Later on, however, the warnings were discontinued for southern Texas when Erika moved south of the state. Just one month after Hurricane Claudette caused millions of dollars in damage in Texas, the fast-moving tropical cyclone that was Erika caught residents by surprise, since it was forecast to make landfall near Brownsville, Texas. Citizens as well as business owners boarded up in anticipation of the storm. Also, about 10,000 people in northeastern Mexico were evacuated because of the threat for flooding that Erika possessed, including 2,000 in Matamoros.


Rainfall totals from Hurricane Erika.

The Bahamas and Florida

The precursor disturbance to Erika was expected to bring heavy, yet much needed rainfall to the Bahamas.

In Florida, the precursor disturbance dropped heavy rain while moving across Florida, including in Indian River County. In addition, the storm produced waves of 6-8 feet, as well as moderate wind gusts.


Erika produced light rainfall across southern Texas, reaching 3.83 inches in Sabinal, but most locations reported less than two inches of rain from the storm. Also, doppler radar rainfall estimates indicated that 4 to 6 inches of rain fell in Kenedy and Brooks Counties. Sustained winds in southern Texas from Erika peaked at 39 mph in Brownsville, where a gust of 47 mph was also recorded. In addition, high waves were reported northward to Corpus Christi. Erika caused minor flooding as well as beach erosion along South Padre Island. Also, strong wind gusts as high as 60 mph caused isolated and minor wind damage in southern Texas, including South Padre Island, where strong winds damaged the roof of a business. The winds also uprooted a large tree and caused limb damage to several small- to medium-sized trees in Brownsville. Total damage in Texas from Erika reached $10,000 (2003 USD).


In Mexico, where Erika made landfall, Erika primarily affected the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, but also had effects on Coahuila as well. Rainfall peaked at 6.71 inches at Magueyes in Tamaulipas, and several other locations reported over 3 inches of rain, including a total of 4.02 inches at Cerro Prieto, which was the highest rainfall total reported in the state of Nuevo León. In addition, 3.42 inches of rain was reported in Monterrey, where 30 people were injured. Sustained winds peaked at 40 mph in San Fernando, where a gust of 65 mph was reported. The heavy rainfall caused severe flooding and mudslides, which blocked several highways in northeastern Mexico. In Matamoros, Erika damaged roofs as well as cars. Moderately high winds snapped tree branches and spread debris across roadways, although the locals considered the storm to be minor. In the Nuevo León city of Montemorelos, two people died when they were swept away after they drove their truck across a partially flooded bridge. 20,000 people were left without power throughout Mexico because of Erika. Erika's remnant circulation produced heavy rainfall in western Mexico and Baja California.

Lack of Retirement

Because damage was minimal, the name Erika was not retired in 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


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