HOUSTON – This weekend marks 35 years since Hurricane Alicia slammed into the southeast Texas coast and went down as one of the worst hurricanes in the region’s history.
Alicia formed Aug. 15, 1983, in the Gulf of Mexico just south of the Mississippi River Delta. Within two days, the storm reached hurricane status and was nearing Galveston. The storm spun its wheels off the coast, all the while gaining strength and inching closer to land.
On Aug. 18, the hurricane came ashore southwest of Galveston, where the winds peaked at 115 mph.
As Alicia moved inland, the winds ripped through downtown Houston. High-rise buildings acted like canyons and funneled the winds through the city streets. The high winds picked up gravel off the roofs of the buildings and carried it into windows, sending flying glass and other debris raining onto the streets below.
Alicia also sent a 10-foot surge of water inland.
The Category 3 storm killed 21 people and caused about $3 billion in damage.
At the time, it was the worst storm to hit the region since Hurricane Carla in 1961. It would remain the only Category 3 or higher storm to hit Texas for 16 years.
KPRC2’s Bill Balleza flew in Sky 2 after the storm moved away from the Houston area. The video showed house after house on Galveston Island barely standing.
KPRC2 chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley said there are two big lessons that were learned during Alicia – it only takes one storm to cause a catastrophe and preparation is the key.
Here’s an excerpt from a story Billingsley wrote about the storm in 2013:
First, the 1983 hurricane season only had a total of four tropical storms -- only four! And of those, three became hurricanes and only one became major -- Alicia.
So while we are always interested in seasonal forecasts and just what the climate looks like in a particular hurricane season, we must always prepare for just one because Alicia taught us that's all it takes.
Second, Alicia formed on an old cold front south of New Orleans before heading this way. In just 30 hours, a little over one day, Alicia went from being nothing to becoming a Category 3 hurricane and moving ashore.
Obviously, there wasn’t much time to prepare for a Cat 3 like that and therein lies the importance of always making a kit and having a plan. We can’t undo Alicia or the damage and lives it destroyed, but we can learn from it and be smarter for the future.