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15th Anniversary of Hurricane Lili making landfall in Louisiana

3 Oct 2017, 2:25 pm


On the morning of October 3, 2002, Hurricane Lili made landfall on the Louisiana coast, just seven days after Hurricane Isidore had struck the same area.  Lili had already ravaged Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba and was to bring further grief to Louisiana and Mississippi.

Lili began as a African easterly wave moving into the tropical Atlantic before becoming a tropical depression on Sept. 21st.  It moved quickly westnorthwestward and reached Tropical Storm status as it moved near Barbados on Sept. 23rd.  The storm came under surveillance of the Air Force Hurricane Hunters as it moved into the Caribbean Sea and gathered strength.  As it moved north of the Netherlands Antilles, Lili began to encounter southerly wind shear which slowed its forward progress and reduced its maximum sustained wind speed by thirty mph (45 km/hr). A NOAA49 Synoptic Surveillance mission documented the hostile environment.  By the next day, it was an open wave although the National Hurricane Center kept it at depression status.

[Lower Fuselage radar from NOAA43 of Hurricane Lili’s eye making landfall (NOAA/HRD)]

On Sept. 27th, the system jogged northward and brought torrential rains to Haiti to its north.  Flooding rivers swept houses away and mudslides wiped out villages, killing four people.  The jog also brought the center of the storm over Jamaica.  Over the next two days, Lili moved along the length of the island, with flooding and mudslides claiming the lives of four people and destroying the sugar cane crop.  The tropical storm did not substantially weaken during its trip over Jamaica.  NOAA43 carried out an Ocean Survey mission to the west of Jamaica on Sept. 29th, dropping AXBTs in the sea along the forecast track of the storm.

By Sept. 30th the storm moved out to sea over where the ocean survey had taken place, and began to intensify into a hurricane.  A follow-up mission was flown by NOAA43 into the core of the storm verifying changes in sea temperatures under Lili.  Then NOAA42 flew an Ocean Winds experiment, tracking the intensification of the inner core.  The hurricane began to accelerate northwestward and by late on October 1st struck the Isle of Youth as a Category-Two hurricane.  Lili brought heavy rain and high winds to the Isle and the western tip of Cuba, including Havana.  One person was killed and substantial building damage was experienced.  NOAA49 began a series of back to back Synoptic Survey missions, releasing dropwindsondes around Lili in order to define the steering currents and improve the track forecasts.

Once the hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico, it began to rapidly intensify into a Category-Four hurricane.  NOAA43 carried out another Ocean Survey of the Gulf ahead of Lili while NOAA 42 did another Ocean Winds experiment into the major hurricane.  On Oct. 3rd, Lili began a more northerly track heading for the coast of Louisiana.  Its maximum sustained winds began to reduce from their peak of 145 mph (230 km/hr) and by the time NOAA43 flew a landfall mission into Lili, the winds had come down to 92 mph (148 km/hr).  In addition to coordinating its flight pattern with ground teams from Texas Tech, the scientists in the NOAA plane also flew some CBLAST patterns, descending to 900 feet between rainbands.

Lili’s rainfall in the United States
(Courtesy of David Roth NOAA/WPC)

Lili made landfall near Intercoastal City, LA about 8 AM on Oct. 3rd.  It brought a 12 foot (3.7 m) storm surge along the shore and up to 8.4 inches (213 mm) of rainfall along its track inland.  Outer bands of the hurricane also brought flooding to Mississippi.  Lili rapidly diminished as it moved inland and was absorbed into an extratropical low by Oct. 6th.  During its path of destruction, Lili caused 13 direct deaths and US$925 million in damages.

But the hurricane did supply researchers with a valuable case for studying the relationship between ocean temperatures and storm intensity, as well as changes of a landfalling weak hurricane.

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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