Hurricane Hanna strengthened as it neared the Texas coast north of Brownsville with a “life-threatening” wall of water, flooding rains, and tree-toppling winds.
The storm’s winds reached 85 miles (137 km) per hour, making it 2020’s first Atlantic hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 3 p.m. New York time, when Hanna was about 55 miles from Port Mansfield, Texas.
It’s still a Category 1 storm, the lowest on the five-step Saffir Simpson scale, and much of its damage will likely come from dangerous storm surge and flooding inland rains.
Three other Atlantic storms have hit the U.S. in 2020 so far, but at below hurricane strength.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in his forecast. “Persons located in these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions.”
Water in many Texas bays could reach 5 feet above high tide levels and residents in its path have been told to flee, a situation made more complicated by the presence of COVID-19. Seas are already starting to rise along the coast., Storm surges kill about half of all those who die in hurricanes.
Hanna will likely come ashore on Padre Island between Corpus Christi and Brownsville later on Saturday, said Elizabeth Palumbi, a meteorologist with Maxar in Gaithersburg, Maryland. In addition to the surge, flooding rains will spread across southern Texas and into northern Mexico, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches (30 cm).
It will be fueled by warm Gulf of Mexico water and its winds could even reach 90 mph before it comes ashore “in relatively sparsely populated areas,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of WeatherTiger LLC in Tallahassee, Florida. The storm could have an impact on cotton crops in the region, but Hanna’s most powerful winds are rather compact, stretching just 25 miles from its center.
While Hanna has prompted some offshore rigs to evacuate, the impact on oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has been muted.
Hanna isn’t the only threat. Hurricane Douglas is still bearing down on Hawaii with winds of 105 mph, the center said, although it’s weakened after peaking as Category 4 storm on Friday. Douglas was about 440 miles east of Hilo and on its current track it could clip Maui and Oahu overnight Sunday into Monday.
Heavy rain is likely regardless of whether Douglas makes a direct strike on one of the Hawaiian islands or just passes by, and could touch off mudslides and floods. While it will weaken as it nears the chain, Douglas will probably be at least a Category 1 hurricane.
Meanwhile, compact Gonzalo was downgraded to a tropical depression as its top winds dropped in speed. It will bring heavy rains to parts of the Caribbean’s Windward Islands. Residents on Tobago and Grenada are under a tropical storm warning. The storm should dissipate on Sunday.
Forecasters are also watching a tropical wave of thunderstorms moving off Africa that has a 50% chance of becoming 2020’s ninth named storm.
“The tropical wave is a major concern for the week ahead,” Truchelut said. “This system is likely to develop, and may target the Southeastern U.S. in around 10 days.”
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