Eye on the storm
Port Aransans were feeling some relief at press time Tuesday as forecasts were calling for Tropical Storm Alex to likely strike more than 100 miles south of the Coastal Bend. But residents still were keeping wary eyes on the storm, with at least one forecaster saying it still was too early to say the Coastal Bend was completely out of danger.
Alex was expected to become a hurricane late Tuesday. Asked about 5 p.m. Tuesday if he was prepared to say the Coastal Bend wouldn’t be directly hit by the storm, Douglas Vogelsang, a forecaster out of the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi, said, “I’m absolutely not ready to say that.”
The storm, Vogelsang said, still was too far out to sea and unpredictable to be certain it wouldn’t veer north and get closer to the Coastal Bend than expected.
A map on the National Weather Service’s Web site showed that the storm’s most likely target was between the Rio Grande Valley and La Cruz, Mexico, but text on the site said a hurricane warning extended as far north as Baffin Bay.
Interviewed shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Port Aransas Mayor Keith McMullin said he was confident that information from the National Hurricane Center, which is part of the National Weather Service, showed that the storm’s track was taking it far enough south of Port Aransas that he wouldn’t have to order any kind of evacuation. He also said he believed it wouldn’t strike close enough to cause any major problems here.
“At this point, I’m confident we’re OK,” McMullin said. “Having said that, when I get another weather briefing tonight at 10, if they say the world has changed … then we’ll play the cards we’re dealt. The thing about hurricanes is, they do change. They are unpredictable.”
No one, including McMullin, was forecasting Port Aransas to be completely unaffected by Alex’s effects. Thunderstorm and tropical storm conditions were predicted to move into the Coastal Bend this week.
A tropical storm warning was expected to remain in effect for local shores at least into this morning, Thursday, July 1, Vogelsang said.
Winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to about 40 mph were forecast for the Port Aransas area today, with slightly windier conditions expected over the water, Vogelsang said.
Most of the rain associated with the storm was predicted for Wednesday and today, with accumulations of five to 10 inches possible, the forecaster said.
Winds were expected to drop by late Thursday afternoon, but showers were predicted to continue into Friday. Vogelsang said there would be a 60 percent chance of rain Friday, 40 percent Saturday, 30 percent Sunday and 20 percent Monday.
Alex, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, grabbed a lot of people’s attention on Mustang Island.
“I can tell you that, judging from the number of people coming into city hall to get disaster cards and the number of phone calls coming in, that storm defi- nitely has captured people’s attention,” McMullin said.
“City staff has been ‘all hands on deck,’ ” McMullin said. “You have to remember that, for a good portion of (Monday), we looked like we might be in the middle of the cone (of landfall possibilities). We were making preparations for landfall as a Category Two storm.”
After churning through the western Caribbean last week and then cutting across the Yucatan Peninsula Sunday, Alex started heading generally north. For a while, forecasters said it could strike anywhere from Galveston to Mexico.
As the range of possible landfall locations narrowed, Port Aransas remained near the northern end of the possible strike area.
City officials met repeatedly during the week to discuss the possibility of evacuation orders. City workers were removing portable restrooms, lifeguard stands and trashcans from the beach, where tides were expected to reach the sand dunes.
Padre Island National Seashore was closed to the public in response to the storm. County officials closed I.B. Magee Beach Park until further notice beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
(This newspaper’s production schedule also was affected by the storm. While the South Jetty normally goes to press on Wednesday afternoons, this edition went to press Tuesday night due to uncertainty about Alex’s potential effects on the Coastal Bend.)
In its 4 p.m. Tuesday advisory, the National Hurricane Center stated that Alex was about 290 miles southeast of Brownsville and becoming better organized. The storm was expected to make a gradual turn toward the west-northwest with some decrease in forward speed Wednesday.
Alex was expected to reach hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 mph, before midnight Tuesday. It was expected to make landfall somewhere within the hurricane warning area late Wednesday afternoon or that night.
Port Aransas city officials were planning to meet Wednesday morning to assess the storm situation once again.
Officials will “likely focus on getting ready for the (July 4) holiday weekend,” McMullin wrote in an e-mail to the South Jetty. “We will be working to get the word out that we are open for business. Weather should improve on Friday. The beaches will likely be scrubbed clean, which is what typically happens with these tidal events.”