Graphic of possible beach and marine impacts from Gustav, Labor Day Weekend
Surf's Up This Labor Day?
Perhaps, If Gustav Strengthens and Grows

Gustav, expected to intensify into a strong to major hurricane over the weekend, is currently forecast to move into the south central Gulf of Mexico by the middle of the weekend, and progress slowly northwest through the heart of the Gulf on its way toward the northern coast between southeast Texas and the Florida Panhandle early next week. Impacts from Gustav in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly for beach goers and mariners, will highly depend on track, intensity, and the storm's ultimate girth.

Knowns...and Unknowns
As of 8 PM, August 29th, forecasters are confident of a number of issues: first, that Gustav will take advantage of high heat content in the northwest Caribbean Sea and southern Gulf of Mexico to become a major Hurricane during the weekend, and second, given increasing confidence in dynamic hurricane models, as well as satellite depiction of atmospheric motions leading to the expected steering pattern, that Gustav will work its way into the central Gulf by the middle of the holiday weekend, and north central Gulf toward the weekend's end. What is less clear, particularly as we head into late Sunday and Labor Day, are three issues: first, how much will Gustav intensify; second, how fast (or slow) will the cyclone track through the Gulf, and third, will the envelope of tropical storm and hurricane force winds expand, or will Gustav be more tightly wrapped?

Potential Impacts
The image above shows impacts that could be borne out, beginning late Sunday but especially notable on Labor Day, as Gustav makes his way through the Gulf. Due to the unknowns listed above, these impacts lean toward the conservative side, and might be considered the best case scenario based on the current track, speed of motion, and size of the cyclone. However, given a similar track but a slower speed of motion and an expanded circulation, for example, tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 250 miles from the center, would produce more significant effects for the coast, including:

  • Seas building above 12 feet, and perhaps as high as 20 feet, offshore.
  • Surf building above 6 feet.
  • Dangerous, life threatening rip currents.
  • Tides perhaps 2 feet above normal or higher, potentially reaching the dune line.
  • Significant beach erosion (especially if Gustav slows down considerably).

Staying Safe
Needless to say, the combination of a potentially strong hurricane in the central Gulf with Labor Day weekend, when tourism and local visitors to South Padre Island tends to increase, could be deadly to those who do not respect the potential power of the surf. Current forecast data suggest plenty of sunshine and building heat to close the weekend over the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which would entice even more visitors in light of the generally cloudy and wet conditions that have affected many since the middle of August. Inexperienced swimmers are urged to use extreme caution if entering the water, and may need to remain very close to the shoreline. Parents, in particularly, should keep a close eye on young children along and near the shoreline. Updates may be issued as the weekend progresses, especially if worse case conditions become more likely. In the mean time, remember to stay safe out there this Labor Day weekend. Click here for water safety tips.

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