Remembering Allen…

| August 9, 2008 @ 10:10 pm | 5 Replies

1980’s Hurricane Allen was one of the first hurricanes that I got to really study. I was about to be a freshman at Samford University. My science project about hurricanes had gotten a lot of notoriety, going to the International Science Fair in San Antonio, Texas. It won me a scholarship to Samford, and I was excited about going there for two years, t hen transferring to Florida State to finish in meteorology. School was just a couple of weeks away. I had a very fun teenager job, tearing tickets at Cobb’s Cinema City 8 movie theatre in Roebuck.

I had followed Allen with extreme interest throughout its life. On July 31st, the disturbance moved off the coast of Africa. The next day, it became a tropical depression. The storm was notable for its rapid westward movement at 15-20 mph. By the morning of the 2nd, it became the first named storm of the season. It rapidly intensified on the 3rd as it bore down on the islands of the Caribbean.

On the evening of August 4th, I was probably the only student at freshman orientation that stayed up the entire night listening for each advisory on NOAA Weatheradio at the rapidly intensifying hurricane became a category five monster south of Puerto Rico and became the strongest hurricane ever observed in the eastern Caribbean with a central pressure of 911 millibars. Hurricane Emily would shatter the record in 2005. Allen dodged and weaved through the islands of the Caribbean, passing south of Hispaniola and north of Jamaica as a category four storm. It would intensify to 899 mb as it passed through the Yucatan Channel, sending nervous residents along the Gulf Coast packing as far north as Alabama. That 899 mb reading makes Allen the fifth strongest hurricane still ever observed in the Atlantic. At the time, it was the second strongest, surpassed only by the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

Allen weakened back to a category four hurricane on the 7th, thanks to interaction with land, but by the 8th, it was intensifying again and would regain category five status on Saturday the 9th over the southern Gulf. As the hurricane moved toward Texas on Saturday the 9th, it entrained dry air and weakened back to a strong category three hurricane, making landfall just north of Brownsville, Texas.

I got to the National Weather Service on Oxmoor Road around 11:30 p.m. that night, planning to spend the entire evening in the teletype room watching the reports and bulletins out of Texas. Someone else had the same idea. His name was Keith Blackwell, and at the time, he was the air pollution meteorologist for Jefferson County. Keith and I would go on to become friends, brought together by our extreme interest in hurricanes.

Keith would go on to be an Air Force meteorologist and a professor at the University of South Alabama. Now Dr. Keith Blackwell, he is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable experts on hurricanes, being called to Congress to testify after Hurricane Katrina.

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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