Texans braced for a direct impact from Hanna on Saturday, after the storm rapidly strengthened overnight and became the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. As Hanna bore down on the southern Texas coast, it was packing maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) officially declared Hanna a Category 1 hurricane at 7 a.m. CDT on Saturday.
NOAA Hurricane Hunters flew into the Category 1 hurricane early Saturday morning and reported that the center of the storm was 100 miles away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and approaching the coast at 9 mph.
With warm waters and light wind shear in its path prior to landfall, Hanna strengthened a bit more prior to making landfall between Corpus Christi and Port Mansfield, Texas, on Saturday afternoon. As of 3 p.m. CDT, the Hanna’s western eyewall was bringing hurricane conditions to the coast of Texas, the NHC said.
“Hanna became a hurricane this morning at 7 a.m. CDT and now has maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. A little more strengthening is possible until it makes landfall during the late afternoon hours, probably around 5 p.m. CDT later today. Landfall looks to be around 50 miles south of Corpus Christi or so,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
Even before Hanna’s center reached land, its impacts were being felt in coastal communities. On Saturday afternoon, power outages rose past 20,000 along the coastline, according to PowerOutage.us. Outages are expected to rise throughout the weekend.
Some damage to poorly constructed buildings and localized power outages can’t be ruled out after landfall with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 100-mph wind gusts forecast. Once over land, Hanna will begin to lose wind intensity and should completely unravel Sunday night and Monday as it runs into the mountains of northeastern Mexico.
“The highest wind gusts of 80 to 100 mph will be right at the immediate coast near and just north of the center where it comes ashore. But even farther north around Corpus Christi wind gusts around 60 to 70 mph can occur,” Pydynowski said.
AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell was on the scene in Padre Island, Texas, about 30 miles south of Corpus Christi, and he reported seeing “pretty angry” Gulf waters as Hanna churned up a powerful storm surge and lashed the shoreline with high winds.
Wadell has been in south Texas since Thursday, making his first stop in Corpus Christi, and said conditions had been quickly deteriorating with some flooding already underway in low lying places on Padre Island. Tide levels were about five feet above normal, local officials said, and a buoy in the area recorded a wind gust of 63 mph earlier on Saturday.
Video footage showed howling winds whipping through the leaves of palm trees a little farther up the coast in Corpus Christi, where a 54-mph wind gust was recorded at Bob Hall Pier on Saturday as the hurricane was closing in on the coast. In addition to dealing with Hurricane Hanna, Corpus Christi has seen a rash of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, a troubling trend that’s been spreading across the Lone Star State as the pandemic has worsened there.
AccuWeather forecasters rated the storm a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes, a more nuanced method the company introduced in 2019 to assess the potential damage a tropical system could cause.
“Definitely power outages, some damage to structures will occur, even farther inland where gusts of 40 to 60 will be more widespread into tonight,” Pydynowski said.
Heavy rain will pose the greatest risk to lives and property along the Gulf Coast, forecasters say.
“Rainfall will be a major factor with widespread amounts of 4 to 8 inches across northeastern Mexico and south Texas, with 8 to 12 inches possible across the deep south in Texas, including most of the Rio Grande Valley and then into northeast Mexico as well,” Pydynowski said.
A general 2 to 4 inches of rain is forecast to fall across a wide area of southern Texas. An AccuWeather Local StormMax of 12 inches is anticipated in Texas, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 16 inches (400 mm) in Mexico.
“Max storm surge 3 to 6 feet is expected near where the center comes ashore and northward up the Texas gulf coast towards Matagorda Bay,” Pydynowski said.
A storm surge of around 5 feet inundated North Padre Island near Corpus Christi on Saturday morning.
“Some of the rain will be beneficial,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, adding, “but too much rain may also fall — perhaps close to a foot in some areas of South Texas — which will lead to flooding.”
Low-water crossings will become too dangerous to navigate as some places in Texas could see up to a foot of rain. Even more rain could fall in the mountains of Mexico as the storm crosses the border while moving farther inland.
The strongest winds will be near and just north of where the center makes landfall but gusty winds can extend 100 miles or more to the north of the large system.
Hanna’s strengthening through Friday prompted officials in Texas to make impact preparations. Tropical storm and hurricane warnings were in effect across a large portion of the Texas Gulf Coast as the storm spun closer to land.
Residents in several south Texas communities were urged to evacuate on Friday ahead of landfall.
A hurricane warning was also issued for Corpus Christi and surrounding areas, the first hurricane warning for this part of the Texas coast since August of 2017 before Hurricane Harvey made landfall.
Authorities in Corpus Christi shut down the beaches at noon on Friday ahead of the storm’s arrival. Police and lifeguards could be seen ushering people off the beaches there, AccuWeather’s Bill Wadell reported. The fire department was preparing crews for swift-water rescues and residents were filling sandbags.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had urged “all those who are in the path of this storm to heed the warnings and guidance from local officials before the storm makes landfall.” In a statement, Abbott said that “Texas will coordinate with local officials to provide assistance and resources to communities in the area.” Abbott was also updating residents on the growing COVID-19 crisis impacting much of his state.
ccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell is on the ground in Corpus Christi and will be there as the storm moves through. On Thursday, he spoke with Lori Ramirez, a Corpus Christi native who recently moved back there. Ramirez told Wadell that many who live there consider tropical storms “a part of life” but that Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the region nearly three years ago, rattled people, causing many to take more precautions than they might have in the past with a storm approaching.
“I’m a little nervous, but you’ve gotta be prepared, especially when you’re living by the water,” Ramirez told Wadell. “When it gets to hurricanes, you start to worry,” she said, adding that’s when she activates a plan “in case we need to get out of here.”
With its formation, Hanna earned the distinction of being the earliest-recorded “H” named storm in Atlantic basin history. Prior to Hanna, the earliest eighth-named storm was Tropical Storm Harvey from 2005, which formed on Aug. 3. The name Harvey was retired after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area with more than 60 inches of rain in 2017.
Hanna is not expected to impact offshore oil and gas production, and energy companies were continuing normal operations as well.