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Be Prepared for Hurricanes, Anytime

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season will go down as one of the quietest in recent memory, and forecast quite well by NOAA and other groups as early as April, 2014. Nine named cyclones, of which six were hurricanes and only one a major (Category 3) occurred. There was only one U.S. landfall, a scraping along the North Carolina coast by early July’s Hurricane Arthur. For the third year in a row, the Lower Texas coast had no threat from tropical cyclone wind or storm surge. However, Tropical Storm Dolly assisted a Top Five Wettest September in 2014 by bringing 1 to 3 inches of rainfall on the 2nd and 3rd. Though the storm’s center remained well south of the Lower Texas coast, the outer bands helped the cause.

The 2012 season proved beyond any doubt that there is "More to the Story than the Category". First, the "I’s had it" once again (Irene was 2011’s big story); Isaac finally got its act together after fighting off wind shear and dry air while tracking into the central Gulf. When Isaac did edge toward the Louisiana coast, it slowed to a crawl and pushed Gulf water into the Mississippi River delta through multiple tide cycles. The result was a storm surge that overtopped unimproved levees in Plaquemines Parish, pushing up to 9 feet of water into homes. The same surge swamped the west end of Lake Pontchartrain with more inundation than from Katrina in 2005. Despite Isaac’s high water mark, for the majority of the time the cyclone’s wind strength was either tropical storm or barely hurricane strength.

Isaac was the prelude to the monster that would effectively close the season with a bang. Hurricane Sandy interacted with big atmospheric puzzle pieces, including a deepening upper level trough moving into the Ohio Valley, and a westward building upper level ridge across the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Close to the surface, the cyclone enveloped abundantly warm, moist air from above average Gulf Stream waters. This combination allowed the storm to take a very rare west–northwest track (for late October) onto the New Jersey coast. All the while, Sandy was barely hanging on as a Category 1 wind storm.

The rest is history. Sandy usurped 1991’s Perfect Storm when it grew to more than 900 miles wide, surged up to 9 feet of Atlantic Ocean waters and pounding waves along the New Jersey and New York City shoreline, and dropped up to three feet of snow in the mountains of West Virginia. More than $65 billion in damage was estimated, and at least 8 million residents were without power for days to weeks into the chill of a northeast U.S. November.

Closer to home, tropical activity was non existent in 2012. Wind shear and dry air from northern Mexico through Texas locked the door to all system’s attempt to move toward the Rio Grande Valley. The closest point of impact was near Tampico with Tropical Cyclone Helene in mid August, which made "landfall" as a barely noticeable depression. With tropical activity far removed from the Rio Grande Valley and Rio Grande basin, heat dominated the summer and drought worsened steadily after a temporary break between late March and mid May.

The 2010 season is remembered for Hurricane Alex Alex produced tropical storm force winds, moderate rainfall, and feeder band tornadoes on June 30th, and leftover tropical moisture and turning winds helped produce a damaging tornado in Hebbronville. The storm’s remnants were most memorable, as more than 50 inches of rain fell across the Mexican tributaries of the Rio Grande basin through July 2nd. The result was a massive river flood and opening of the floodways in the Valley, which continued for the better part of July and August. Two months later, the Brownsville/Harlingen/Raymondville area took a direct hit from rapidly developing Tropical Storm Hermine, which left millions of dollars in damage from 70 mph winds on Labor Day night. Though Hermine was the final cyclone to affect the Valley in 2010, moisture initially associated with Hurricane Karl (which slammed into Veracruz in mid September) aided a period of heavy rainfall and flooding in mid September.

In 2008, Texas experienced what the State of Florida had become accustomed to earlier this decade: A very busy Hurricane Season. Four storms, ranging from Edouard’s light touch to Ike’s deadly hammer, affected millions of Texans living near the coast, from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to the Beaumont and Port Arthur area. When the waters cleared and the debris was removed, an estimated $20 billion or more in damage was realized, along with more than 100 fatalities directly or indirectly from the storms. Hurricane Dolly provided a much needed wake up call to the Rio Grande Valley, after a number of near misses and a general complacency since Beulah made the last direct hit on the main population centers back in 1967. Flooding rains exposed a patchwork of poor drainage locations from Cameron and Willacy through Hidalgo and Starr Counties. Category 1 sustained winds raked South Padre Island, knocking out power for up to two weeks and leaving a mess of debris that effectively halted the normally busy mid summer resort season.

What will the 2014 season bring? No matter what the forecast, it only takes one landfalling hurricane to make a season memorable. Preparedness is the key to surviving any hurricane season, and we hope the following information, along with that in the Texas Hurricane Guide, Rio Grande Valley Edition will help residents of the Rio Grande Valley and Deep South Texas to make smart decisions well before any storms arrive on our shores. What you do now may well save your life, your family, and protect your property from the perils of hurricanes, this year and any year.

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