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Storm Approaches Hurricane Strength, Threatens Texas Coast

Weather: Residents brace for as much as 15 inches of rain. System could hit land today.

September 07, 2002|From Reuters

HOUSTON — Tropical storm Fay, its center ill-defined but churning powerfully, stalled over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Friday but still threatened to strike the Texas coast as a weak hurricane.

Fay, the sixth tropical storm of the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season, packed sustained winds of 60 mph with higher gusts and could reach hurricane strength of 74 mph before making landfall today, said forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Some areas could get as much as 15 inches of rain, they said.

The weather service issued a hurricane watch for the Texas coast from Port O'Connor, about 160 miles southwest of Houston on Matagorda Bay, to High Island, which is the eastern tip of Galveston Bay's mouth.

Rain, minor street flooding, heavy surf and high winds were already hitting Galveston Island, a 27-mile coastal barrier island about 50 miles southeast of Houston. Classes in several school districts were canceled and authorities suggested that residents in low-lying areas voluntarily evacuate.

"We are looking at a lot of problems later this evening. We haven't had too much rain, but the tides are rising fast," said Galveston County Emergency Management spokesman John Simsen.

In Freeport, about 55 miles southwest of Houston, storm surge pushed tides 4 feet above normal.

Although Galveston and Freeport were in Fay's cross hairs, a much wider stretch of the coastline was also on guard.

A tropical storm warning, which means residents can expect storm conditions within 24 hours, was in effect for an even wider swath of the coast, from Port Aransas near Corpus Christi to Intracoastal City, La., which is at the midpoint of that state's coastline.

At 4 p.m. CDT, the center of the storm was about 105 miles south of Galveston, at latitude 27.8 degrees north and longitude 94.8 west.

The storm's center actually had moved farther from the coast as Friday progressed, but meteorologists cautioned that it was ill-defined and therefore not an indicator of the storm's direction. The poor definition also made it more difficult to predict the tempest's path, but forecasters said the storm was expected to begin lumbering slowly to the west-northwest or northwest in the next 24 hours.

The National Hurricane Center warned residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts to expect a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet and 4 to 8 inches of rain in the storm's path.

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