Bret was a small hurricane that made landfall along a sparsely-populated section of the south Texas coast with sustained winds up to 100 knots. Bret was the first hurricane to strike the Texas coast since Hurricane Jerry in October 1989. It was the first hurricane to affect south Texas since Hurricane Allen in August 1980, and it was the strongest since Hurricane Alicia in 1983.
a. Synoptic History
Bret formed as a tropical depression over the Bay of Campeche on 18 August. Both a tropical wave and an upper-level low contributed to the formation of Bret. A tropical wave moved from Africa to the tropical Atlantic Ocean on 5 August. Continuity and soundings from Merida, Mexico place this weak tropical wave in the vicinity of the Yucatan Peninsula on the 18th. The second feature, an upper-level cyclonic circulation, appeared on water vapor imagery over the north central Caribbean moving westward on 15 August. The circulation initiated a thunderstorm complex on the night of the 17th over the Yucatan Peninsula and a weak surface low formed in the same location early on the 18th..
Later on the 18th, the surface low moved over the Bay of Campeche. Early morning visible satellite imagery showed a low level cloud circulation center and, a few hours later, a U.S. Air Force Reserve Unit reconnaissance mission confirmed the existence of a closed circulation. With some deep convection and banding present, the system was upgraded to a tropical depression at 1800 UTC on the 18th over the Bay of Campeche. The best track begins at this time, as shown in Table 1, which is a listing of Bret's best track positions, wind speeds, and central pressures, every six hours. Figure 1 shows a map of this track.
The depression did not strengthen right away due to vertical shear caused by an upper-level trough over the extreme western Gulf of Mexico. But the trough moved away and Bret reached tropical storm strength late on the 19th while beginning to move slowly northward. The vertical shear decreased. Bret rapidly became more organized and then steadily strengthened to a 125-knot category four hurricane on the Saffir/Simpson scale on the morning of the 22nd, while appproaching south Texas coast near Brownsville. Responding to the presence of a weak mid-tropospheric ridge over the northwest Gulf of Mexico and to a mid-tropospheric cyclonic circulation over the Rio Grande valley, Bret turned northwestward and slowed its forward speed down to about 5 knots. The forward speed had earlier been as high as 9 knots.
Bret's center crossed the Texas coast over the central portion of Padre Island, midway between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, at 0000 UTC, 23 August. It had weakened to a category three hurricane with 100 knot winds and a pressure of 951mb by the time of landfall. After moving inland, Bret's movement became more westward with a slow forward speed. Bret continued to weaken as it moved across south Texas and into the high terrain of north central Mexico where it dissipated on the 25th.
b. Meteorological Statistics
Figure 2 and Figure 3 depict the best track curves and data plots of the maximum sustained 1-min surface winds (10m above ground level) and minimum central pressure, respectively, as a function of time. These plots include data gathered by aircraft reconnaissance and Dvorak satellite classification estimates and an occasional ship or land report.
Aircraft reconnaissance coverage began at 2000 UTC 18 August and continued until just after the hurricane's landfall at 0100 UTC 23 August. The maximum 1-min surface wind speed of 125 knots at 0600 and 1200 UTC on the 22nd is based on GPS-sonde vertical wind speed profiles. Figure 4 shows one of these profiles and shows that winds reached near 150 knots within 1000 feet (300 meters) above the surface and were near 125 knots near the surface. Bret's pressure dropped 35 millibars to 944 millibars in the 24 hours ending at 1200 UTC on the 22nd and dropped 21 millibars in the six hours ending at 0000 UTC of the same day.
This episode of intensification coincides with the hurricane's track over a maximum in the sea surface temperature (SST) field over the west central Gulf of Mexico. Analyses from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory shows 31C SST values along Bret's track during this intensification period. In addition, estimates of the upper oceanic heat content (described by Shay et al., 1999) under portions of the hurricane's circulation in the western Gulf of Mexico were rather high.
During the 12 hours prior to landfall, the hurricane weakened from 125 to 100 knots. It was also at this time that the western edge of the eyewall was coming into contact with Padre Island.
Bret was a small hurricane. At its peak, hurricane force winds were confined to a narrow radius of 30-40 miles from the center in the north semicircle and only 10-20 miles in the south semicircle. Thus only a small segment of the Texas coast was affected by the core of the hurricane. Kennedy County received most of the hurricane force winds which are estimated as high as 100 knots over a small portion of the coast of Padre Island. With the center moving inland over a sparsely populated area, few surface reports were available substantiating strong winds. Table 2 lists a selection of available surface observations, provided by the National Weather Service offices at Brownsville, Corpus Christi, and Houston/Galveston. The highest reported sustained wind in Table 2 is 63 knots at Rincon del San Jose on Padre Island. The instrument there failed at 2230 UTC on the 22nd just before the center passed close by.
The Port Aransas C-MAN station reported maximum sustained winds of 41 knots as the center of the hurricane passed about 60 n mi to the south.
Bret was slow moving and Doppler radar estimates suggest maximum storm total precipitation amounts of over 30 inches in Kennedy county. None of the rainfall totals in Table 2 come close to that value. Aransas Pass is north of the area of peak rainfall and it reported a storm total of 12.60 inches. The heavy rains accompanying the weakening tropical cyclone caused notable river flooding in the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande River at Laredo and the Aransas River near Skidmore and at Oso Creek crested slightly above flood stage, causing local flooding in these respective areas.
A 24-hour rainfall total of over 14 inches was reported from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon and the state of Tamaulipas is believed to have received similar rainfall.
Theoretical values from the SLOSH storm surge model indicate that a narrow region along Central and North Padre Island had a storm surge of 8 to 10 feet. A report from Port Mansfield Pass suggests that three to five feet of water penetrated this coastal location. Several cuts were observed in the dunes surrounding Padre Island. The largest of these, near mile marker 50 near the eye's passage, was mistaken by aircrews inspecting the damage as the Mansfield Pass. Substantial beach erosion was reported near Port Mansfield.
In Aransas County around 2145 UTC 22 August, a tornado reportedly destroyed a recreational vehicle, along with a barn and a shed, and uprooted trees. Other reports indicate that a tornado touched down in Kingsville around 2245 UTC on the 22nd and a tornado was reported in Alice, time unknown. Little damage was reported with the latter two.
c. Casualty and Damage Statistics
Despite Bret's intensity, damage was generally reported to be fairly light. Much of this owed to its landfall over a sparsely populated region in south Texas and its small size. The nearest population centers, Brownsville and Corpus Christi, were spared the brunt of the hurricane's core.
Property insurance damage claims total 30 million dollars as reported by the Property Claims Services Division of the Insurance Services Office. Multiplying by a factor of 2.0 gives an estimated damage total of 60 million dollars.
There have been no reports of loss of life.
d. Forecast and Warning Critique
The average forecast track errors for Bret are as follows: 65 n mi at 24 hours, 155 n mi at 48 hours, and 255 n mi (5 cases) at 72 hours. These values are just slightly below the previous 10-year averages. The GFDL model had a left bias and brought the hurricane inland over Mexico on a northwest to westward track for several forecasts as Bret moved northward. It has been suggested that the use of high-resolution topography with 18,000-feet mountains over Mexico in the GFDL model is the reason for the left bias.
The official forecast issued at 1800 UTC on the 19th, when Bret first became a tropical storm, had a 72-hour wind speed error of -85 knots. This was caused by the GFDL bias and resultant official forecast which placed the storm inland in 72 hours, rather than strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shay, L. K., G. J. Gustavo, J. Goni, and P. G. Black, 1999: Effects of a warm oceanic feature on Huricane Opal. Accepted for publication in Mon.Wea.Rev.
Figure 1. Best track positions for Hurricane Bret, 18-25 August 1999.
Figure 2. Best track maximum sustained wind speed curve for Hurricane Bret.
Figure 3. Best track minimum central pressure curve for Hurricane Bret.
Figure 4. GPS Dropsonde vertical wind speed profile for Hurricane Bret.
Table 1. Preliminary Best Track - Hurricane Bret, 18-25 August, 1999. Date/Time
Stage Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W) 18/1800 19.5 94.4 1010 30 tropical depression 19/0000 19.5 94.5 1008 30 " 0600 19.6 94.6 1008 30 " 1200 19.7 94.6 1008 30 " 1800 19.8 94.7 1005 35 tropical storm 20/0000 19.8 94.7 1000 40 " 0600 20.0 94.6 998 45 " 1200 20.4 94.5 993 50 " 1800 21.2 94.4 991 55 " 21/0000 21.9 94.5 983 65 hurricane 0600 22.5 94.7 980 75 " 1200 23.1 94.9 979 80 " 1800 23.8 95.0 975 90 " 22/0000 24.7 95.1 954 120 " 0600 25.5 95.5 950 125 " 1200 26.2 96.1 944 125 " 1800 26.6 96.8 946 120 " 23/0000 26.9 97.4 951 100 " 0600 27.0 97.9 963 80 " 1200 27.3 98.3 980 60 tropical storm 1800 27.6 98.8 993 35 " 24/0000 28.0 99.5 1000 30 tropical depression 0600 28.0 100.4 1003 30 " 1200 27,8 101.3 1006 25 " 1800 27.7 102.1 1007 25 " 25/0000 27.6 103.0 1008 20 " 0600 dissipated 22/1200 26.2 96.1 944 125 minimum pressure 23/0000 26.9 97.4 951 100 landfall at central Padre Island, Texas
Table 2. Hurricane Bret selected surface observations, August 1999. Minimum
Maximum surface wind speed
Texas Brownsville Airport ASOS 1002.4 22/2131 29 47 22/1830 1.99 Cameron City Airport ASOS 999.7 22/2035 36 46 22/1841 3.49 Harlingen Airport ASOS 999.0 22/2310 38 48 22/2208 2.55 Port Isabel 1.1 McAllen Airport ASOS 1003.1 23/0023 28 37 22/2209 2.93 South Padre Island 998.6 22/1815 38 48 22/1915 3.88 Arroyo Colorado 43 57 22/1900 Port Mansfield 985.4 22/2000 42 66 22/2200 Rincon del San Jose 63* 78* 22/2230 Falfurrias Airport 976.6 22/0330 85* 23/0330 Edinburg 3.41 El Sauz 2.00 Falcon 1.19 Garciasville 2.72 Harlingen 2.94 Hebbronville 4.57 Laguna Atascosa 4.16 La Joya 4.65 Los Fresnos 2.56 McAllen 3.10 Mercedes 1.02 Monte Alto 4.06 Rancho Viejo 1.45 Raymondville 3.07 Rincon 1.80# Rio Grande City 4.14 Santa Ana NWR 3.82 Santa Rosa 3.54 Sarita(Kenedy Co.) County co 13.18 Weslaco 6.84 Zapata 2.48 Bob Hall Pier 2,6 Corpus Christi 1002.4 23/0322 39 48 23/0326 5.18 Kingsville NAS ASOS 1001.7 35 44 22/1843 3.09 Rockport ASOS 1006.4 22/2228 34 41 23/1506 1.8 2.29 Victoria ASOS 1008.8 23/0900 22 28 24/1811 0.69 Alice ASOS 998.3 23/1217 39 48 23/1748 3.97 Cotulla ASOS 1006.4 23/1753 33 40 23/2332 4.27 McMullen Target ASOS 38 22/2124 Port Aransas C-MAN 1003.1 22/2200 41 52 23/2200 Aransas Pass 57 23/2115 12.60 Freer 2.68 Benavides 5.10 Calliham 2.00 Concepcion 7.38# Fowlerton 4.07 George West 5.30 Point Comfort 0.21# Portland 7.95 Robstown 5.36# Sinton 5.46 Victoria CP&L 0.52 Alice 3.00 Buoy 42019 1007. 22/2200 37 23/1600 Buoy 42020 982.9 22/1900 58 73 22/1900 Freeport 2.4 Palacios ASOS 1008. 23/0353 23 27 22/1012 0.42 Galveston ASOS 1010. 23/0425 19 22 23/1032 0.02 Angleton/L. Jackson ASOS 1010. 23/0602 20 26 0.26
aNWS ASOS and C-MAN averaging periods are 2 min; buoys are 8 min.
bDate/time is for sustained wind when both sustained and gust are listed.
cStorm surge is water height above normal astronomical tide level.
dStorm tide is water height above NGVD.
*Equipment failed or power outage experienced.
#24-hour rainfall total.
Table 3. Watch and warning summary, Hurricane Bret, 18-25 August, 1999. Date/time
Action Location 19/2100 Tropical Storm Warning issued Tampico to Coatzacoalcos, Mexico 20/1500 Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Warning issued La Pesca to Veracruz, Mexico 20/1500 Tropical Storm Warning discontinued Veracruz to Coatzacoalcos, Mexico 21/0900 Hurricane Watch issued Tuxpan, Mexico to Baffin Bay Texas 21/0900 Hurricane Watch/Tropical Storm Warning discontinued Tuxpan to Vera Cruz, Mexico 21/1500 Hurricane Warning issued La Pesca, Mexico to Baffin Bay, Texas 21/2100 Hurricane Watch/Tropical Storm Warning issued Baffin Bay to Port Aransas, Texas 22/0300 Hurricane Warning issued Baffin Bay to Port O'Connor, Texas 22/0300 Hurricane Watch/Tropical Storm Warning issued Port O'Connor to Freeport, Texas 22/0900 Hurricane Watch discontinued Tuxpan to Tampico, Mexico 22/1500 Hurricane Watch discontinued Tampico to La Pesca, Mexico 22/2100 Hurricane Watch discontinued Port O'Connor to Freeport, Texas 23/0100 Hurricane Warning discontinued La Pesca to U.S./Mexican border 23/0300 Hurricane Warning downgraded to Tropical Storm Warning north of Port Aransas to Port O'Connor, Texas 23/0300 Tropical Storm Warning discontinued north of Port O'Connor to Freeport, Texas 23/0900 Hurricane Warning downgraded to Tropical Storm Warning Brownsville to Port Aransas, Texas 23/2100 Tropical Storm Warning discontinued Brownsville to Port Aransas, Texas