Hurricane Celia

 

Storm History

Damaging Winds

 Storm Surge

Tornadoes

Rainfall

Satellite Imagery

Steering Pattern

Local WBO Statements

Image Gallery

40th Anniversary of the last Major Hurricane to strike the Coastal Bend
Tim Tinsley, NWS Corpus Christi

 

Forty years ago this summer, Hurricane Celia blasted the Coastal Bend of Texas.  On August 3rd, 1970, Hurricane
Celia made landfall near Port Aransas as a major Hurricane (category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale) with sustained
winds of 130 mph.  Celia is the last major hurricane to make landfall on the middle Texas Coast.  Celia's life cycle
consisted of two rapid intensification periods, but most interesting was the explosive damaging wind gusts in the
western semi-circle of the eye wall, in addition to the typical damaging eastern half of the center.

Map of South Texas

Map of South Texas
 

Storm History

Hurricane Celia formed into a tropical depression in the northwest Caribbean Sea, west of the Cayman Islands, on
July 30th 1970.  The tropical depression clipped the northern portion of Cuba and became tropical storm Celia
(winds greater than or equal to 39 mph) during the morning of August 1st when it entered the Gulf of Mexico.  Celia
quickly intensified into a major hurricane by late afternoon with sustained winds measured at 115 mph and a central
pressure drop of 25 millibars (mb) over an 8 hour period.  The intensification was brief as winds decreased to 90
mph during the morning of August 2nd (see map below).

Celia Track

Although Celia remained on a west-northwest course, the forecast anticipated a turn to the right prior to landfall in
Texas.  Hurricane warnings were issued for the upper Texas Coast during the morning of August 2nd.  However,
Celia stayed on track for a direct hit on Corpus Christi.  Hurricane warnings were issued on the morning of August
3rd for Corpus Christi for a high end category 1 or low end category 2 storm (90 to 100 mph sustained winds). 
For residents and visitors that waited, there was limited time to make proper preparations or evacuate before Celia
made landfall.  Conditions worsened quickly as Celia underwent rapid intensification prior to landfall.  The central
pressure dropped 43 mb in 15 hours, plummeting to 945 mb or 27.89 inches of mercury (measured at Ingleside)
at landfall during the afternoon of August 3rd.  Celia was a high end category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125
mph, measured at Corpus Christi International Airport and 130 mph at Aransas Pass.  Hurricane Celia caused 15
fatalities in South Texas and 466 injuries.  The cyclone weakened down to a tropical storm by the time it reached
interior Texas near Cotulla, but remained tropical storm strength passed Del Rio, producing a million dollars of
damage to the city.  Celia weakened to a tropical depression when it reached Big Bend Texas and remained 
similar intensity through El Paso Texas before weakening.

Damaging Winds

Most hurricanes produce significant damage from the storm surge as water piles up ahead of the cyclone. 
However, Celia caused the most impact from extreme winds across a metropolitan area.  When the eye of storm
moved across Corpus Christi Bay, sustained winds of 110 to 130 mph occurred in Nueces County (including
the city of Corpus Christi) north into the southern portion of Refugio County.  The strongest winds occurred in
less than 30 minutes across Corpus Christi but caused the most significant damage.  Most notable were the
wind gusts which were 30 to 40 mph stronger than the sustained winds.  The highest estimated wind gust was
180 mph at Aransas Pass and Robstown.

Location

Maximum Sustained Winds (direction and mph)

 Maximum Wind Gusts (direction and mph)

Aransas Pass

NNE 130

SW 180 mph*

NWS Corpus Christi

SW 125

SW 161

Port Aransas Coast Guard

NNE 104

NNE 127

Gregory (Reynolds Plant)

NNW 128

NNW 138

Refugio 3 south

NNE 120

NNE 160*

Bayside

E 110

ESE 140*

Portland/Odem

 

N and S 160*

Robstown

 

WSW 180*

Mathis

N 100*

N 150*

*- estimated 

Most of the destruction appeared to be similar to what is usually associated with a tornado, but site surveys did not
show any circulation within the damage areas.  Tornado damage referenced in the Fujita scale would indicate
widespread EF2 damage and pockets of EF4 damage across the Coastal Bend.  The damage was perculiar
since some homes were untouched in the devastated areas.  Dr. Robert Simpson, then the director of the National
Hurricane Center and cofounder of the Saffir-Simpson scale in 1971, surveyed the damage in Corpus Christi from
aircraft.  He described the damage as "a succession of long streaks of heavy damage...as small pockets of high
energy winds radially spaced from north to south at interval lengths of a mile or more, raked across Corpus Christi
from west to east."

Wind path

The extreme winds from Hurricane Celia produced staggering property damage to the Coastal Bend community.
Damage was most significant in the counties of Nueces, San Patricio, and Aransas, generally around Corpus
Christi Bay.  The hardest hit areas included the Corpus Christi metro area, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Robstown
and Portland.  In Corpus Christi, 70 percent of residences suffered some damage.  For Portland and Port Aransas
90 and 75 percent respectively suffered home and business damage.  About 8,000 homes were destroyed, 13,850
homes suffered major damage, and 41,800 homes had at least minor damage.  Commerical losses included 252
businesses destroyed, 331 boats lost, and 310 farm buildings damaged from the Hurricane.  Over 3,000 power
poles were knocked down and mobile homes were shredded and a total loss.  The total property and crop damage
was estimated at $453.8 million ($2.5 billion 2010 dollars).  Celia was the costliest storm to hit Texas, surpassing
Hurricane Carla, a category 4 storm in 1961.

 

Storm Surge

Due to Hurricane Celia's late intensification just prior to landfall and its compact size, the storm surge was not 
significant.  The highest storm surge occurred at Port Aransas where the tides reached 9.2 feet on the beach and
9.0 feet at the jetty.  There was only minor damage in Port Aransas from the storm surge impact.  The tides range
from 3 to 5 feet from Corpus Christi north to Baytown and Galveston Texas.

 

Location

Highest Surge (feet)

Port Aransas Beach

9.2

Mustang Island

7.9

Lavaca Bay Park -
 Port Lavaca

5.8

Baytown

5.3

Rockport

5.0

Corpus Christi Bayfront

4.9

Freeport - 
Dow Chemical Plant

4.9

La Porte

4.8

 

Tornadoes

Hurricane Celia produced several tornadoes that affected various parts of South Texas.  The number of tornadoes
was much less than what occurred in 1967 from Hurricane Beulah.  One of the eight tornadoes killed a man near
Lake Corpus Christi and caused 2 injuries.  The eight tornadoes occurred in the following locations:
Port O'Connor, Lake Corpus Christi to 1 mile north of Sandia, 4 miles southeast of Refugio, near Yoakum in
DeWitt County, 10 miles west of Dilley in Frio County, north of Katy in Harris County, and Alvin in Brazoria County.

 

Rainfall

Celia also differed from Hurricane Beulah in 1967, which was a slow and large cyclone that produced widespread
flooding across South Texas.  Beulah produced record flood levels on the Nueces River basin.  Since Hurricane
Celia was compact and fast moving when it crossed the Coastal Bend rainfall amounts ranged from 5 to 7 inches,
with a maximum of 7.26 inches at Robstown.

rainfall map

 

Satellite Imagery

Satellite imagery was coming out of its infancy in 1970, but there were several visible satellite images taken of
Hurricane Celia.  The image below depicts the life cycle of the Hurricane from July 30th to August 6th.

Satellite Series

The visible image most notable was when Hurricane Celia was making landfall on the south Texas Coast on the
afternoon of August 3rd and the eye of the storm can been seen near Port Aransas.

Eye of Celia

 

Steering Pattern

A persistent upper level high pressure system was over the southern Rockies eastward into the Southeast United
States on July 31st (upper left quadrant below).  When Celia moved into the southern Gulf of Mexico on August
1st (upper right quadrant), the high pressure steered the storm to the west-northwest.  The forecasts at the time
expected Celia to make a turn to the northwest and impact the upper Texas Coast.  However, as seen in the lower
right quadrant below, the high pressure did not shift to the east until the evening of August 3rd, when Celia was 
making landfall in South Texas.  Celia moved northwest to about El Paso Texas when it was a tropical depression
by August 5th.

August 1 August 2
0000 UTC 1 August 1970 500-mb winds (~20,000 ft). 0000 UTC 2 August 1970 500-mb winds.
August 3 August 4
0000 UTC 3 August 1970 500-mb winds. 0000 UTC 4 August 1970 500-mb winds.

 

Local Statements

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued several local statements for Hurricane Celia.  The statements
updated the hazardous situation when Celia approached the coast.  The statements indicated the "ESSA
Weather Bureau" in Corpus Christi, since at the time the NWS was under the parent agency named the
Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), which was later reorganized to become the National
Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

 

August 2nd 11 am

August 3rd 8 am

August 2nd 1 pm

August 3rd 9 am

August 2nd 3 pm

August 3rd 11 am

August 2nd 5 pm

August 3rd Noon

August 2nd 7 pm

August 3rd 1 pm

August 3rd 3 am

August 3rd 2 pm

August 3rd 5 am

August 3rd 440 pm

August 3rd 7 am

Storm Report

 

Image Gallery

The images below in color were taken in the Annaville area.  The black and white photos were selected from
a variety of areas across the Coastal Bend of Texas.

       
       
       
       
       
       

 

All category 3 storms since 1960 All hurricanes
All category 3 Hurricanes since 1960. All hurricane tracks for South Texas.

Page Created by Alex Tardy - WFO Corpus Christi


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