A The Latest Gulf Coast Storm@

National Weather Service Office
Lake Charles, Louisiana

Kent Kuyper, Marty Mayeaux, Montra Lockwood, Donovan Landreneau, Joe Rua, Lance Escudé and Roger Erickson

Hurricane Lili=s journey began as a tropical wave moving west across the central Atlantic Ocean. On September 21st 2002 at 4 PM CDT the tropical wave was upgraded to Tropical Depression Thirteen and was located about 955 miles west of the Lesser Antilles moving to the west at 17 mph. The complete track can be found here.

Track of Lili On Sunday, the 22nd of September, Tropical Depression Thirteen increased in forward speed to 23 mph and was located 90 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. As the morning progressed, Tropical Depression Thirteen continued to intensify and was upgraded to Tropical Storm Lili with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. During the overnight hours, a still weak and clumsy Lili stumbled across the Windward Islands leaving the islands unscathed. By sunrise, on the morning of the 24th, Lili had moved into the Caribbean Sea.

Lili continued a westward movement across the Caribbean Sea on a crash course toward Jamaica. However, on the 27th of September, Lili made a last minute jog to the right, sparing the island of Jamaica from the brunt of its fury.

On Sunday, the 29th of September, the Coastal Waters Forecast from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Lake Charles (WFO LCH) began to alert mariners to the possibility of hurricane conditions by Thursday. This gave the marine interests four days to prepare. The word had been released that this storm was not going to yield and it would move toward the Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana coasts. Its exact location of landfall was still sketchy at this time, but local forecasters could not deny that it was definitely becoming a threat.

At 10:00 AM CDT on the 30th of September, Lili was upgraded to a hurricane and was moving towards the Cayman Islands, approaching the southwest tip of Cuba.

On the first day of October, interests along the northwest Gulf Coast awoke to find that Lili had emerged off the western tip of Cuba and was now in the Gulf of Mexico.  The morning Area Forecast Discussion and Hazardous Weather Outlook issued from WFO LCH mentioned the first alert to residents along the southwest coast of Louisiana to the potential for a major hurricane making landfall later in the week. By the late afternoon hours, Lili had intensified to a Category II storm with winds of 100 mph, moving west-northwest across the Gulf of Mexico.

A Hurricane Watch was posted for the northern Gulf Coast late in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 1st . This watch extended from San Luis Pass, Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

WFO LCH continued to issue products concerning this impending storm. The first Hurricane Local Statement was issued at 5 PM CDT on the 1st, addressing residents along the coast with precaution and preparedness information in the event that the storm was to make landfall in Southeast Texas or Southern Louisiana.

Some of the precautions taken by local emergency officials included a mandatory evacuation of Cameron Parish, effective at 8 AM October 2nd.  Calcasieu Parish asked for an evacuation of low lying areas. In addition, all schools were closed across these parishes for the remainder of the week.

Satellite image of Lili On Wednesday morning, the 2nd of October, Lili was upgraded to a Category III hurricane, which made it the second major hurricane of the 2002 hurricane season, after Isidore with winds of 120 mph. Emergency management quickly responded with mandatory evacuation orders along the entire coast from Jefferson County in Southeast Texas to Iberia Parish in South-Central Louisiana. At the same time, a River Flood Warning was issued for the lower Calcasieu and Vermilion rivers.  This was to alert the interests along these rivers to expect flooding as tidal surge pushed waters upstream.

By the early afternoon hours on the 2nd , the minimum central pressure dropped to 941 millibars or 27.79 inches as winds increased to 135 mph. Flood Watches were posted across Southern and Central Louisiana. In addition, at 3:45 PM, an Inland Hurricane Wind Warning was issued for Southern Louisiana and a Tropical Storm Wind Warning was posted for Southeast Texas.

Lili countered preparedness moves with an unexpected and threatening intensification to winds of 145 mph, making it a Category IV hurricane. With Lili located only 200 miles south of Intracoastal City, Louisiana, officials had to act fast and brace for the worst. By the early evening hours on the 2nd, the National Hurricane Center adjusted the track of the storm with landfall 50 miles east of the previous forecast track. This put Lili on a direct course into Vermilion Parish, potentially ushering in a deadly storm surge of 18 to 20 feet across Vermilion Bay.

During the pre-dawn hours of the 3rd, tensions ran high as Lili moved northwest as forecast. However, an unexpected twist made all the difference between life and death as Lili began to weaken. Satellite imagery began to reveal that the eyewall was filling. At daybreak on the 3rd, Lili was downgraded to a Category II storm with winds of only 100 mph. However, the worst was still yet to come for residents across Southern and Central Louisiana.

Radar image of Lili Hourly Short Term Forecasts issued by WFO LCH detailed Lili=s approach to the coast of Southern Louisiana. WSR-88D Doppler radar images, such as the one on the left, are the bases for these forecasts. As can be seen in this image, outer bands were sweeping across Southern Louisiana. By 9 AM, short term forecasts heralded the arrival of Lili in southern Vermilion parish. This can be seen in the image at right. Notice the eyewall moving near Marsh Island. Radar image of Lili

For a complete radar loop of Hurricane Lili making landfall, click here.

Radar image of Lili The first Tornado Warning was issued at 10:57 AM for Lafayette Parish. Reports from Lafayette Emergency Management indicated a touchdown near Pinhook and Verot School Roads. No damage was reported with the first touchdown.
The second Tornado Warning was issued at 11:16 AM, this time for Acadia Parish. This was based on the signatures in the northern section of the eyewall. The Lake Charles WSR-88S's Storm-Relative Motion products showed indications of a strong circulation in this area at the 0.5° elevation scan (around 3,000 ft elevation) in western Lafayette Parish. Radar image of Lili
Radar image of Lili The third Tornado Warning was issued at 11:31 AM for Lafayette Parish. It is the policy of this office to limit warning times to 30 minutes, thereby enhancing the tornado issuance. After radar analysis indicated a tornadic signature, a new tornado warning was issued for Lafayette Parish.
A new Tornado Warning for Acadia Parish was issued at 11:43 AM based on radar signatures. The post-storm site survey team found damage from this tornado about 15 miles north of Crowley near Mowata. In the image at right, Acadia Parish is to the west-northwest of Lafayette. Radar image of Lili

In all, a total of eleven tornado warnings were issued for storms produced by Hurricane Lili across South-Central and Central Louisiana. After landfall, Lili continued on a northward course at 16 mph. In Evangeline Parish, a tornado touched down, causing a roof on a home to collapse. Residents were trapped inside the home but escaped serious injury from the damage. Below at left is an image from the WSR-88D in Lake Charles at the time the tornado struck.

Radar image of Lili Radar estimate of Lili's rainfall
Click to see a larger version

Flash flood warnings were issued for Vermilion, Acadia, Evangeline and Rapides parishes. Doppler radar indicated 5 to 7 inches of rain had fallen in less than 2 hours across these parishes. Although flooding was mainly confined to streets, a few rural areas outside of Rayne, Crowley and eastern portions of Vermilion Parish had 1 to 2 feet of water. Rainfall totals reported by co-operative observers for the two-day period from 7 AM Wednesday to 7 AM Friday include:

   Location Total
Perry 8.57 in
Alexandria Power Plant 5.70 in
Bunkie 4.77 in
Lake Martin 4.67 in
Esther 4.34 in
Jennings 3.91 in
Eunice 3.77 in
DeRidder 2.10 in

The image on the right above shows the total rainfall with Hurricane Lili. Most of the rainfall was locked near the path of the center of the storm.

Four different tide gage sites heralded the arrival of Lili’s tidal surge. Bayou Sale Ridge near Franklin, Louisiana recorded a max height of 6.78 feet around 10 AM. This was close to the location where Lili made landfall.

Plot of Bayou Sale's tide data
Click for a larger view of Bayou Sale's tidal plot
Plot of Wax Lake's tide data
Click for a larger view of Wax Lake's tidal plot

The highest storm surge occurred to the right of center near Wax Lake Outlet or Calumet, Louisiana with a height of 12.45 feet around 8 AM. This site is located in eastern St. Mary Parish near the coast. This was confirmed by a local damage survey team from WFO LCH.

One of the interesting features noted in the tidal graphs occurred on the west side of the storm.

Grand Chenier Lake was west of the eye passage. Note the tidal surge during the morning hours; however, what catches the eye is the sudden falling tide of over two feet.  This signature resulted after Lili moved onshore as the strong north winds pushed the storm surge waters back out into the gulf.  

Plot of Grand Chenier Lake's tide data
Click for a larger view of Grand Chenier's tidal plot
Plot of Hackberry's tide plot
Click for a larger view of Hackberry's tidal plot

The Hackberry gage site is located on the north end of Calcasieu Lake, southwest of Lake Charles. This area has normal tidal influences, although located about 20 miles inland. A tidal surge cannot be noted with this site just looking at the graph. A small tidal surge appears to have held tides to near normal. As the storm moved onshore, the effects of the surge no longer supported water across the lake and with a very strong north wind, water was allowed to rush out of the lake

By the evening hours of October 3rd, all watches and warnings for Lili were lifted.

Prior to Hurricane Lili making landfall, the electronics staff at WFO LCH completed advance field work. They ensured equipment was online and working within established parameters. This equipment included river gages, tidal gages and NOAA Weather Radio. They also installed a barograph and wind gust recorder at the Cameron Parish courthouse, as Lili was anticipated to make landfall near this location. This was one of the few locations in Cameron Parish that remained above Audrey’s tidal surge many years ago.

The office electronics staff conducted an extensive check of station equipment and resources needed to maintain operations. This included evaluating the WSR-88D, Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) sites, the Upper Air Tracking Unit, and on-station computer systems.

Through hard work and early preparations, no direct deaths or serious injuries were associated with Hurricane Lili as she passed through Southern Louisiana on her northward journey. Based on survey damage, the highest storm surge was between 10 and 12 feet at Burns Point/Salt Point, where a home 6 feet above the ground had 4 feet of water inundation. Debris was found on the top of an 8 foot cyclone fence at the the National Weather Service’s ASOS at Salt Point. As a result of Lili, portions of Louisiana were declared a federal disaster area. The amount of monetary damage is still unknown at this time, but the cleanup and restoration efforts will continue for many years.

The highest wind gust of 120 mph was reported in Vermilion Parish at Intracoastal City. The highest wind gust recorded at an ASOS site was 91 mph at the Acadiana Regional Airport outside New Iberia. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center reported a maximum wind gust of 68 mph in New Iberia and 67 mph just south of Alexandria in Rapides Parish.

This was the first time since 1992 that a hurricane struck the southwest coast of Louisiana. It was on that occasion that Andrew made landfall in St. Mary Parish.

Hurricane Lili was a unique storm in many ways. Unlike Isidore a week earlier, Lili’s strongest winds remained close to the center of the storm. Lili also unexpectedly weakened as it approached the coastal waters of South-Central Louisiana. These two factors along with preparedness inevitably saved lives.

This storm moved through Louisiana without a single life lost. A year earlier, Tropical Storm Allison claimed around thirty lives, mainly from flooding. Through accurate forecasts by the National Weather Service, in conjunction with emergency planners and the local media, residents were well equipped to make life-saving decisions.


 October 1st  4:00 PM  Hurricane Watch*  Jefferson, Orange, Cameron, Iberia, St. Mary and Vermilion
 October 2nd  4:00 AM  Hurricane Warning*  Jefferson, Orange, Cameron, Iberia, St. Mary, and Vermilion
 October 2nd  4:00 PM  Inland Hurricane Wind Warning  Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Evangeline, Jeff Davis,
 Lafayette, Rapides, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vernon
 October 2nd  4:00 PM  Inland Tropical Storm Warning  Hardin, Jasper, Newton, and Tyler
 October 2nd  4:00 PM  Flood Watch  Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline,
 Iberia, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, Rapides, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary,
 Vermilion, and Vernon
 October 3rd  9:49 AM  Flash Flood Warning  Vermilion
 October 3rd  10:57 AM  Tornado Warning  Lafayette
 October 3rd  11:16 AM  Tornado Warning  Acadia
 October 3rd  11:31 AM  Tornado Warning  Lafayette
 October 3rd  11:43 AM  Tornado Warning  Acadia
 October 3rd  11:50 AM  Flash Flood Warning  Acadia
 October 3rd  12:12 PM  Tornado Warning  Acadia
 October 3rd  12:22 PM  Tornado Warning  Evangeline
 October 3rd  12:43 PM  Tornado Warning  Acadia
 October 3rd  12:55 PM  Tornado Warning  Evangeline and St. Landry
 October 3rd  12:58 PM  Tornado Warning  Evangeline
 October 3rd  1:56 PM  Tornado Warning  Evangeline
 October 3rd  2:31 PM  Tornado Warning  Rapides
 October 3rd  3:10 PM  Flash Flood Warning  Rapides
 October 3rd  3:25 PM  Tornado Warning  Rapides
 October 3rd  4:10 PM  Tornado Warning  Rapides
 * issued by the Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida


Last updated 10/18/02

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