July tropical storms, hurricanes often start in Gulf of Mexico
History shows Houston is very vulnerable to Gulf storms early in season.
July is still part of the so-called “quiet” time in the Atlantic with essentially the same amount of activity as we see in June. However, as was the case in June, a significant number of July events impact the Gulf of Mexico. The map shows the tracks of storms whose centers passed within 65 miles of Galveston. Also as was the case for June, most of our July landfalls were from storms that originated in the Gulf of Mexico. This should serve as a reminder that most often we will not have days or weeks of following a storm approach our area.
While every storm tells a story, there is one in particular from our July history that I want to mention in this post. In 1943 a storm formed around July 25 in the Gulf just south of New Orleans, in the same area where Alicia formed. Its track is highlighted on the map above. Much like Alicia 40 years later, this storm moved west and intensified before crossing the upper Texas coast. The first landfall was on the Bolivar Peninsula after which it moved northwest across Galveston Bay, making a second landfall near La Porte. It then moved inland right through Houston causing considerable wind damage and localized flooding.
There are many interesting aspects of this storm. It occurred during World War II and weather and damage information was classified and therefore could not be given out to the media. Given that ships had to run silent and the storm was small, it is unlikely that forecasters had knowledge of how intense the storm really was. As such, the hurricane came in with virtually no warning. Winds in Galveston County and the southern half of Harris County were out of the northwest, with gusts in excess of 100 mph reported in a number of locations. At first these winds pushed water out of Galveston Bay, exposing the river channels and leaving boats in the harbors sitting on the bottom. After the storm made landfall in La Porte, the water came rushing back with people on the bay shore reporting it looked like a large fog bank coming at them.
In 1943 we didn’t have hurricane hunters investigating trouble in the tropics. That changed over Galveston Bay on July 27th when instructor pilot Colonel Joseph Duckworth and his navigator Colonel Ralph O’Hair flew a single engine trainer into the eye of our storm, the first intentional flight into a hurricane!
Lew Fincher, Hurricane Consulting Inc., and I wrote a report on this storm and its impacts. Click here to read the report.
Back in 1943 the storm was rated a Category 1 hurricane at landfall. The National Hurricane Center leads a team that looks at the data in the historical record and any new information, then makes changes when necessary. Based in part on our report, the 1943 storm has been recently upgraded to Category 2.