Hurricane Claudette made landfall along the middle Texas coast near Port O'Connor on Tuesday, July 15, 2003. Claudette was the first hurricane to strike the Port O'Connor and Matagorda Bay area since Hurricane Fern on September 10, 1971. Historical records dating back to 1851 indicate Claudette is the first July hurricane to make landfall in this area.
Claudette can be traced to a tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa in the first week of July. The tropical wave showed some signs of organization as it moved westward toward the Lesser Antilles but never developed a closed circulation due to its rapid movement and some upper level wind shear. Shear weakened enough on the afternoon of July 8th to upgrade the strong wave to Tropical Storm Claudette while located in the central Caribbean Sea about 415 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Claudette continued to move to the west and passed well south of Jamaica. When Claudette entered the western Caribbean Sea, she began to turn to the northwest and took aim at the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. She moved across the Cancun area before noon on Friday, July 11th with sustained winds around 55 mph.
After emerging in the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Claudette continued to encounter strong upper level shear. Claudette gradually moved to the northwest into the northwest Gulf of Mexico and slowed down, becoming nearly stationary on the afternoon of Sunday, July 13th under the influence of very weak steering currents. Models indicated Claudette would gradually turn toward the west-northwest and then to the west and eventually make landfall on the Texas coast. This turn began to take place on Monday, July 14th as shear began to weaken, and Claudette strengthened into a strong tropical storm with 65 mph winds. The storm reached hurricane status just before midnight on the 14th as it neared the central Texas coast. At landfall during the late morning hours on the 15th near Port O'Connor, Claudette likely had sustained winds of 85 mph (Category 1 hurricane). This portion of the central Texas coast had gone thirty-one years without a landfalling hurricane. Claudette continued to move inland across Calhoun, southern Victoria and Goliad Counties through the afternoon and early evening hours, and weakened back to a tropical storm. The last public advisory on Claudette was issued by the National Hurricane Center that evening as the center moved south of San Antonio.
The National Hurricane Center was consistently forecasting a Category 1 hurricane or near Category 1 hurricane five days before landfall. Typically, Category 1 hurricanes (74 to 95 mph sustained winds) have gusts to Category 2 strength (96 to 110 mph). One week after Claudette made landfall, the post-analysis has not yet been completed. It appears at this time that Claudette was a Category 1 hurricane at landfall.
The National Hurricane Center track forecasts were better than average. Nearly five days before landfall, the track forecasts showed Claudette threatening the Texas coast. Preliminary verification indicates the three-day track forecast error was 151 statute miles compared with the ten-year average of 259 statute miles. The five-day track forecast error was less than 200 statute miles compared with an average of 430 statute miles during the previous two-year in-house test period of the five-day forecast.
After aerial and ground surveys, both WFO Houston and WFO Corpus Christi indicated Category 1 hurricane damage. In addition, there was evidence of damage from a tornado (rated F1) near the waterfront in Palacios.
HURRICANE WATCHES AND WARNINGS
A Hurricane Watch was issued by the National Hurricane Center at 10 AM CDT on Sunday, July 13th, for a portion of the Texas coast from Brownsville to Port O'Connor. At 4 AM CDT on Monday, July 14th, the Watch was extended northward to Matagorda, and a Tropical Storm Watch was issued from Matagorda to High Island.
A Hurricane Warning was issued by the National Hurricane Center at 10 AM CDT on Monday, July 14th, from Baffin Bay to San Luis Pass, and a Tropical Storm Warning was issued at the same time from San Luis Pass to Cameron, Louisiana. Later that day (at 4 PM CDT), the Hurricane Warning was extended to High Island and the Tropical Storm Warning was extended to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.
Damage was observed across most of the coastal counties of the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service forecast area. Major beach erosion was observed from High Island to Freeport. Large geo-tubes on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula did reduce erosion in areas where they were in place. Further south in Matagorda County, major beach erosion was observed in the Sargent area. Coastal roads along the west end of Galveston Bay were under water due to tidal flooding between 5 and 8 feet above mean lower low water. Tides in the west Matagorda Bay area were minimal. Much of the water there was pushed out of the Bay as the storm approached and did not have adequate time to generate a large surge once the winds became east and then southeast. Two deaths (both from falling trees or tree limbs) have been attributed to Hurricane Claudette.
One tornado (rated F1) damaged several buildings in Palacios.