Tropical Storm Claudette has claimed the first victims of the 2021 hurricane season, killing 13 people in Alabama, after slogging ashore in southeast Louisiana on Saturday morning. Claudette brought heavy rains, flash flooding, strong winds, and at least one damaging tornado during its traverse through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama over the weekend.
Claudette is being blamed for three direct deaths in Alabama – two from a tree that fell on a house near Tuscaloosa, and one from a flash flood in the northeast part of the state. Another person is still missing near Birmingham due to a flash flood. Heavy rains were also blamed for 10 indirect storm deaths, due to a hydroplaning traffic accident on Interstate 65 near Greenville, Alabama, according to weather.com. The precursor disturbance of Claudette, which dumped over a foot of rain over portions of southern Mexico, is being blamed for two deaths from lightning in that nation.
Claudette’s heaviest rains of over 10 inches fell near Slidell, Louisiana, leading to severe flash flooding. Flash flooding from Claudette also caused at least 20 high-water rescues in Northport, Alabama. An EF2 tornado on Saturday night in Brewton and East Brewton, Alabama, destroyed or badly damaged 50 homes, injuring three people. Claudette also caused wind damage: Pensacola Regional Airport recorded a wind gust of 81 mph at 7:53 a.m. EDT Saturday.
Claudette regains tropical storm status
After being downgraded to a tropical depression with 30 mph winds on Saturday night, after its initial landfall in Louisiana, Claudette performed the unusual feat of re-intensifying to tropical storm strength while over land on Monday morning. The 5 a.m. EDT Monday advisory from the National Hurricane Center pegged Claudette’s top winds at 40 mph when the center of the storm was still over eastern North Carolina. This is not unprecedented occurrence; according to retired NHC branch chief Hugh Cobb, a number of systems have re-intensified in this manner, including Cleo (1964), Agnes (1972), and Danny (1997). What is perhaps unprecedented is that Claudette also formed over land – NHC’s first advisory was issued when the storm was inland, 45 miles southwest of New Orleans!
At 11 a.m. EDT Monday, Tropical Storm Claudette had moved offshore of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, with top winds of 40 mph, headed east-northeast at 28 mph, away from North Carolina. Claudette was over the relatively warm 25-degree Celsius (77°F) waters of the Gulf Stream, but it will move north of the Gulf Stream on Monday night, encountering very chilly waters of 22 degrees Celsius (72°F). These cooler waters should lead to a quick degradation of Claudette’s structure, and the storm likely will become post-tropical by Tuesday, when it will be passing just south of Nova Scotia, Canada.
The next threat: a tropical wave approaching the Caribbean
A tropical wave located about 900 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles Islands on Monday morning was headed west at about 15 mph, and it likely will arrive in the islands on Thursday or Friday. Satellite imagery showed that this wave had a decent amount of spin, but dry air to the system’s north and west was intruding, allowing only limited heavy thunderstorms.
There is weak model support for development of this system over the next few days, but it will encounter high wind shear beginning on Thursday, likely squelching development. The wave may have better chances for development if it reaches the Western Caribbean relatively intact early next week, as predicted by the GFS model. In an 8 a.m. EDT Monday tropical weather outlook, NHC gave the disturbance two-day and five-day odds of development of 20%. NHC has not yet designated this wave an area of interest, but it may be labeled “Invest 95” later this week.
A large and vigorous tropical wave pushed off the coast of Africa on Monday morning, and this disturbance may warrant being watched for development later this week.
Bob Henson contributed to this post.
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