Hurricane Alice (June 1954)
|Category 1 hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||June 24, 1954|
|Dissipated||June 26, 1954|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 80 mph (130 km/h)
|Damage||$2 million (1954 USD)|
|Areas affected||Mexico, Texas|
|Part of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Alice was a Category 1 hurricane that struck extreme northern Mexico and southern Texas in June 1954, causing at least 55 deaths. It formed in the Bay of Campeche on June 24, and maintained its intensity as it progressed inland between Texas and Mexico. Alice is most remembered as causing the worst flooding ever seen along the Rio Grande, estimated at a one in 2000 year event. The Pecos River crested at 96.24 ft (29.33 m), which joined with the Rio Grande to produce significant flooding. The floodwaters destroyed bridges and dikes and flooded many cities along the inner reaches of the river. Damage was heaviest in Ozona, Texas, where the floods killed 15 people and caused $2 million in damage (1954 USD). Rainfall peaked at over 24.07 in (611 mm), most of which fell in a 24‑hour period. The hurricane was one of two storms named Alice that year.
Alice is estimated to have formed as a tropical storm on June 24 in the Gulf of Mexico about halfway between the Yucatán Peninsula and Tamaulipas. It quickly strengthened as it moved northwestward, and by the morning of June 25, it had reached hurricane strength as it approached the coastline at the United States–Mexico border. Shortly thereafter, it made landfall just south of the border in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas with winds of 70–80 mph (110–130 km/h). The storm approximately followed the Rio Grande after moving inland, passing over Laredo, Texas late on June 25 as it weakened. The storm dissipated early on June 26 over southern Texas.
Before Alice moved ashore, about 50 Girl Scouts at a camp were evacuated to a center in Brownsville, Texas. The residents of Padre Island were also evacuated. Residents in the storm's path were unprepared due to the storm forming suddenly. The United States Coast Guard spread the word about the storm by traversing the coast and advising residents to seek shelter. Officials at the U.S. Weather Bureau posted northwest storm warnings for the Brownsville area, recommending that small boats to stay at harbor. Damages along the coastline at the point of landfall were relatively light. Winds in Brownsville reached 62 mph (100 km/h), which created flying debris that injured one man. Across the border, minor damage was reported in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and one person there was killed by a fallen power line. A few shrimp fishing boats were driven ashore by heavy winds. Although later there was severe flooding further inland, a dam along the Rio Grande prevented significant flooding in the Brownsville area.
Most of the damage resulting from Alice was caused by heavy rain in the inland areas of Texas, Tamaulipas and Coahuila; damage was exacerbated in these areas by drought conditions that rendered the soil especially vulnerable to erosion. Estimates of peak rainfall within 12 hours vary from 22 inches (56 cm) to 26 inches (132 cm), and a total of 35 inches (89 cm) of rain fell in 24 hours, approaching the world record that had been set by an unnamed hurricane in Texas in 1921. However, a 2010 report on the storm's rainfall indicated a maximum of 24.07 in (611 mm) near Pandale, of which 16.02 in (407 mm) fell in a 24‑hour period.
The peak rainfall occurred in a small area centered near the Pecos River. A location along the Johnson Draw reported 11 in (280 mm) of rainfall after receiving minimal precipitation in the previous three years. In addition, some locals in western Texas experienced rainfall from Alice that exceed yearly averages. This contributed to significant flooding along the Pecos River, reaching a flood stage of 55 ft (17 m) in Pandale. The flooding swept away a group of fishermen in Sheffield as well as at a location 10 mi (16 km) north of Pandale, killing four. Downstream, the river crested at 96.24 ft (29.33 m), which washed out a highway and three railroad bridges. A temporary bridge was built between Eagle Pass and Piedro Negro by July 10, or two weeks after the storm. The destroyed rail lines stranded a Sunset Limited train, which prompted the passengers to evacuate to nearby Langtry. The flooding also stranded a Southern Pacific train, whose occupants were later evacuated by helicopters. The peak river crest corresponded to a discharge rate of 948,000 ft³/s (26,800 m³/s), which the International Boundary and Water Commission remarked was "probably the greatest rate of runoff for a watershed of [that] size in the United States." Heavy rain fell across all of southern Texas and northern Mexico as a result of Alice, causing flash floods in inland areas. Ozona, Texas was the town most affected by the floods, sustaining $2 million in damage (1954 USD), as well as 15 deaths. Early on the morning of June 25, a "wall of water" as high as 30 feet (9.2 m) poured out of a dry gully and overwhelmed most of the town. Roughly a third of Ozona had to be evacuated, and many livestock there were killed. About 500 families were left homeless in the town. United States military helicopters worked to rescue people trapped by the floodwaters. In all, at least seven towns experienced flooding from the storm on either side of the border, including Lamesa and Laredo, Texas which were badly damaged by flash floods.
The Rio Grande rose well above flood level at the cities of Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Coahuila. While the city of Eagle Pass was evacuated, Piedras Negras was not. Both cities were completely flooded, and the dike intended to protect Piedras Negras from floods was washed away. At least 38 people (some sources say 39) were killed in Piedras Negras after the dike collapsed. In Eagle Pass, the commercial sector was flooded by over 8 ft (2.4 m) of waters, which let heavy losses. Before the storm began producing heavy rainfall, officials anticipated moderate river flooding that would peak at less than the flood of 1948. The river crested at Laredo, Texas, where waters reached a peak of 62.2 feet (19 m), at least 10 feet (3 m) above the previous record flood. High waters caused the water treatment plants to fail there, which prevented the safe delivery of fresh water until July 1. The International Bridge connecting Laredo and Nuevo Laredo was swept away. Although severe damage occurred in the latter city, no deaths were recorded in either city due to evacuations. Flooding along the Rio Grande was the highest since 1865, and was considered a 1 in 2000 year event. About 12,000 people were evacuated from nearby Ciudad Acuña following the flood. There, the floods left heavy damage.
Estimates for total death toll range from 55 to 153. Death toll estimates for Texas range from 17 to 38, while estimates of deaths in Mexico, where records are less complete, vary more widely. Several of the deaths in Texas were homeless people attempting to enter the United States, and as a result their deaths were not counted. Monetary damage figures are not available, but it is known that flooding from Alice caused considerable damage to crops, primarily cotton.
The disastrous flooding caused by Hurricane Alice along the Rio Grande accelerated the joint US–Mexico Amistad Dam project, a series of flood control dams designed to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. The project, in the planning stages for decades before the storm, was finally begun in 1960.
Leftover waters from the storm led to an increase in mosquitoes in Texas, which prompted a widespread application of larvicide via airplane. On July 1, the flood areas of southern Texas were declared a major disaster area. This followed a delivery of 2 flood specialists, 20 laborers, 2 portable water treatment plants, 7 trucks, and a quantity of insecticides and water treatment tablets. Residents in Laredo, Texas provided citizens of its neighboring city Nuevo Laredo, Mexico with food and water. The Mexican government provided temporary homes for the affected citizens of the flood. American officials distributed typhoid vaccinations, water purification tablets, and insecticides to the American cities along the Rio Grande. Safe water was eventually restored to Laredo, Texas on July 12. All emergency work related to the disaster was finished by September 3.
Members of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army flew 21 helicopters with over 81 tons of relief supplies to the affected people of Mexico and Texas, including food, water, medicine, and clothing.
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