August 25, 1998
Residents along the East Coast boarded up their houses and businesses and headed for higher ground as Hurricane Bonnie headed towards land. Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center, discusses Bonnie and the fallout from Tropical Storm Charlie.
PHIL PONCE: On Sunday what was left of Tropical Storm Charley made its way inland. As it swept in from the Gulf of Mexico, it flooded parts of South Texas and left much of the town of Del Rio underwater. The human toll: At least 14 dead and scores missing. The storm dumped close to 18 inches of rain in four hours on Del Rio, a town of 34,000, about 140 miles west of San Antonio and close to the Rio Grande. This area had been in the midst of a drought. Before this, Del Rio had reported only five inches of rain this year. The water rose so fast residents barely had time to get out of their homes.
MARCUS CARDENAS: We're just hoping it doesn't reach our second floor. That's where we stored all of our storage and our goods, our household, and all that.
PHIL PONCE: The Rio Grande, which forms the border between Texas and Mexico, spilled over its banks and became a mile-wide swell of water. The flood also hit Eagle Pass, some 50 miles down river from Del Rio. The high water is expected to hit Laredo, another 125 miles away, by tomorrow. Local police, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Border Patrol helped rescue residents. Governor George W. Bush sent 150 National Guardsmen with trucks and helicopters to lend a hand. But today officials still fear the rising levels.
PAT MANCHA, U.S. Border Patrol: These creeks keep going up—and they have come down, and they seem to go back up.
PHIL PONCE: In the meantime, rescuers continue to search for the missing.
CAPTAIN FREEMAN VICKERS, Del Rio Police Department: In some areas the creek bed spans out over a mile wide. There's a lot of debris piles, cars, parts of homes and structures that have to be searched through. We're looking for any body or any thing.
PHIL PONCE: A short time ago I spoke about both the Texas rains and Hurricane Bonnie with Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Jarrell, let's talk about Texas first. Explain how an area goes from complete drought to heavy flooding?
JERRY JARRELL, National Hurricane Center: Well, it takes a tropical cyclone a lot of times to do that. A tropical cyclone is a marine cyclone. It sucks up the water off of the ocean floor and once it goes ashore, it has to drop that water somewhere. A month or two ago we would have loved to have had that kind of rain in Texas. Unfortunately, when we got it, they had already had rain, and so it caused massive flooding out there. And the timing was very bad on that one.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Jarrell, Tropical Storm Charley has now been downscaled to a tropical depression. How long can lingering rains from a tropical depression continue?
JERRY JARRELL: Well, we've seen them linger out there for a week or more in Texas. It seems to me the only place that they hang around forever, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it still a few more days out there, as much as I hate to say that.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Jarrell, the Del Rio area is several hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Is it unusual for a tropical storm to have an impact that far inland?
JERRY JARRELL: It is, but it isn't unheard of. We've had storms that go across the Gulf Coast and end up in Canada, still causing heavy rain, so it can happen, but it is unusual; you're right there.
PHIL PONCE: Moving on to Hurricane Bonnie, what's the latest?
JERRY JARRELL: Well, Bonnie's about 290 miles South of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and we think it will go ashore probably around noon tomorrow, but it is so large that probably around midnight strong winds will already arrive on the coast. Hurricane force winds will probably arrive somewhere around daybreak tomorrow, so it's so big that it's going to—it may be as much as a day getting over people there, getting across people, so it's going to be an awfully miserable time coming up for those folks out there in Eastern North Carolina, particularly on the outer banks.
PHIL PONCE: And so you think it's the outer banks that's going to be taking the brunt of the storm?
JERRY JARRELL: I think they are, because we think it will go just to the west of them, and so they'll be on the wrong side, the worst side of the storm, and they'll be getting the huge not only waves but the tides will be as much as ten or twelve feet above normal, which means all the roads will be underwater, and many homes will be destroyed out there, either by the water or the battering waves on top of the water. So it's not a time you'd want to be out there, and fortunately, there will be very few people left there. They should have evacuated by now.
PHIL PONCE: So you're predicting a fairly—a fairly strong storm, when you're talking about property damage and all that?
JERRY JARRELL: Absolutely. It is a major hurricane. It has 115 miles per hour maximum winds, and it's capable of doing major damage out there.
PHIL PONCE: Predicting—you alluded to the evacuation that's taking place in—on the outer banks—how hard is it to predict where the brunt of a storm is going to hit, to give people a chance to make their plans to get out of the area?
JERRY JARRELL: With this storm it's been very difficult, because it stopped. It stopped down south of there for about, oh, a day and a half, and once a storm has stopped, it becomes very difficult to predict. We have the nice atmospheric models, which usually do a yeoman job for us, but in this case, they were giving us practically every answer from west to east on the track through north and so it becomes a little bit of a guessing game and kind of a stubbornness game. We have to sort of stick with—stick with what we believe, even though we're being given conflicting information. So it does become very difficult.
PHIL PONCE: You talk about the—about the possible intensity of the storm. How about the duration of it?
JERRY JARRELL: I'm sorry, I didn't understand.
PHIL PONCE: You talked about how strong the storm might be, but how long might it last, the duration of the storm, the life span of the storm?
JERRY JARRELL: Well, these storms last a week or ten days, but I think what you're after is when it goes over an individual home or over a place on the map, it takes it about a day to get over, because it is so huge, and it's not moving particularly fast, so it may be twenty to twenty-four hours passing someone. So it's going to be a long time of misery out there.
PHIL PONCE: And last question: Any connections between Tropical Storm Charley in Texas and Hurricane Bonnie as far as the big weather picture?
JERRY JARRELL: The only thing that they have in common is that they both originated from disturbances that came off Africa. There's much more commonality between Bonnie and the D-storm—Danielle—that's coming up behind it, the hurricane behind it. They both are following pretty much the same track—a different track than Charley followed.
PHIL PONCE: And so what do you think it's going to do when it hits North Carolina?
JERRY JARRELL: Well, I think it will then go through North Carolina, coming out around Hampton Ridge, Virginia, and then probably make a hard right turn and go back out into the Atlantic.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Jarrell, thank you very much.
JERRY JARRELL: My pleasure.