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Weather forecasters predicted on Friday that Tropical Storm Hanna would strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane by the time it made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi on Saturday afternoon.
The National Hurricane Center, or NHC, reported Friday that Hanna was about 195 miles east of Corpus Christi and was moving west at 10 mph. Aircraft sent into the storm measured maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.
But forecasters expected Hanna’s sustained winds to eventually exceed 74 mph, the threshold a tropical storm’s development must cross to be reclassified as a hurricane. Hanna’s projected wind strength would place it in the lowest of five hurricane categories.
Corpus Christi and nearby communities in a region popularly known as the Coastal Bend could feel the effects of the storm as early as Saturday morning.
“Hanna is expected to become a hurricane before the cyclone makes landfall,” the NHC said. “Steady to rapid weakening is expected after Hanna moves inland.”
Forecasters on Friday afternoon issued a hurricane warning from Baffin Bay to Mesquite Bay.
“A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 24 hours,” the NHC explained. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
A tropical storm warning stretched from the mouth of the Rio Grande northward to Baffin Bay, and from Mesquite Bay to San Luis Pass, south of Houston.
“A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 24 hours,” the NHC statement added.
The Coastal Bend
Officials in the Corpus Christi area on Thursday and Friday urged residents not to underestimate the impact of Hanna, and at a Thursday press conference, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales reminded residents that they were no strangers to tropical threats.
“Here’s how I like to think about it, I guess maybe I’ve mentioned it, I’m a sports fan, baseball fanatic family,” she said. “This is our first game of our season, and it’s not preseason anymore. So we have to get back into the groove but we have to remember this is not an exhibition game where it doesn’t count. This is our game day this weekend.”
Canales emphasized that it was important to prepare, not panic.
“It was almost shocking to hear the National Weather Service say ‘it’s headed straight for Corpus Christi,'” she said on Friday, “but I ask you to think about being brave and being patient.”
Nueces County officials advised residents to prepare for power outages and to stay off the beaches and roads in the coming hours.
Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said residents had to prepare for high winds, heavy rains, and possible flooding.
Nueces County and Corpus Christi officials said they would replace their nightly 5 p.m. COVID-19 briefings with briefings on storm preparations until the emergency passed.
Cornerstones of the Corpus Christi community responded to officials’ warnings to exercise caution. By Friday, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi had closed its offices until Monday morning, and Del Mar College continued its restrictions to its campuses, with online teaching resuming on Monday. The Texas State Aquarium also closed early. All Nueces County and city beaches closed at noon on Friday until 6 a.m. Monday.
The Port of Corpus Christi explained in a statement on Friday that it moved to Condition 2, meaning that its security and police forces would assist “vessels seeking safe harbor and, in addition, monitor vessels that have been approved to moor at Port facilities.”
The statement also noted that the U.S. Coast Guard had set Port Condition Yankee, which set initial restrictions on inbound vessels, and on Friday night it planned to move to Zulu, further elevating those restrictions as the storm threatened ports from Port Mansfield to Brownsville, all under the Coast Guard’s juridiction.
San Patricio County officials urged residents to stay home as much as possible, beginning Friday afternoon.
Webb County, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley
In Laredo and Webb County, where forecasters expected Hanna to cross into Mexico, officials took a moment from fighting the COVID-19 outbreak to address the new challenge from Mother Nature.
“Not only do we have to worry about this, but we have to worry about a tropical depression that’s hit the Gulf, and we are in preparations for that,” said Ramiro Elizondo, Laredo’s interim fire chief and emergency manager.
Elizondo and other officials said they were concerned about flooding, and they would monitor the Rio Grande and floodplains throughout the county.
City Manager Robert Eads urged residents to hunker down at home to avoid straining the city’s resources.
“Just as important is this Tropical Storm Hanna because it affects our community,” he said, “which affects our response rates as well. So when you have a huge surge in water that is just concerning at a lot of different levels.”
Cities and counties throughout the Rio Grande Valley began distributing sandbags to their residents on Friday.
Gov. Greg Abbott reported that the state had resources on standby in anticipation of severe weather affecting the Coastal Bend, the upper Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Hill Country.
Tropical Storm Hanna continues to slowly move WNW towards the Texas Coast. The system should make landfall tomorrow afternoon and will bring scattered to numerous showers to the area this weekend. 1-3″ of rain will be possible with the higher amounts towards the coast. pic.twitter.com/kDF8b535iO
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) July 24, 2020
The National Weather Service said the storm was expected to continue on a westward track across South Texas through Sunday, weakening as it progressed, and dissipate over Mexico on Monday.
A statement from the NHC on Friday explained that “Hanna is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rain with isolated maximum totals of 15 inches through Sunday night in south Texas and into the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and northern Tamaulipas. This rain may result in life-threatening flash 0 flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor to moderate river flooding in south Texas.”
It was not yet known if the San Antonio region would benefit from much, if any, of the rain, considering the storm’s track, which took it through Deep South Texas. The lack of rain has become all the more serious as water levels in the Edwards Aquifer continue to drop and water restrictions on area residents intensify.
The late afternoon estimate that Hanna could become a hurricane may improve those rain chances for San Antonio. But it could also intensify the risk of storm damage in the city.
CPS said on Friday it had equipment and personnel on standby in the event of outages caused by damaged transformers and power lines, but the utility company warns that high winds could hamper efforts to restore power.
CPS said on Friday it was prepared to respond to outages caused by “pockets of heavy rain in the area on both Saturday and Sunday.”
The National Hurricane Center also monitored Tropical Storm Gonzalo as it approached the eastern Caribbean. By Friday afternoon, its chances of becoming a hurricane had faded.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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