Hurricane Franklin
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
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Hurricane Franklin in the Gulf of Mexico
FormedJuly 26, 2017
DissipatedAugust 7, 2017
Highest winds1-minute sustained:
305 km/h (190 mph)
Lowest pressure886 hPa (mbar); 26.16 inHg
Fatalities2,974 direct, 316 missing
Damage$170 billion (2016 USD)
Areas affectedMexico, Texas
Part of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season


Hurricane Franklin was the 7th depression, 6th named storm and 2nd major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. Franklin caused an estimated $170 billion in damage, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

Franklin started out as a weak tropical wave southeast of Puerto Rico. The system remained disorganized until July 23rd, when the National Hurricane Center gave it a 20% chance of developing in the next 48 hours. By this time, the system had become more organized, moving to the south of Hispaniola. As the system began to become more organized, the NHC increased its chance of developing to 60% on July 25th. Early the next morning, the system was declared a tropical depression. Tropical Depression 7 was born.

It only took 18 hours for the system to become a tropical storm. At 8:00 PM, Tropical Depression 7 became Tropical Storm Franklin. Franklin strengthened rapidly in the warm waters off the coast of Mexico, intensifying and becoming a Category 1 hurricane on July 29th. The storm continued intensifying until making its first landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico the night of July 30th, about 20 miles south of Cancun. With winds of 90 mph, the hurricane ripped through the cities of San Miguel and Playa Del Carmen. Storm surge reached 8 feet in Playa del Carmen. While crossing the Yucatan, Franklin weakened back down to a tropical storm before entering the Gulf of Mexico on August 1st.

It's at this point where the storm began slowing down. Tropical Storm Franklin encountered a high pressure system shortly after exiting Mexico, but instead of turning away from the system, Franklin simply stalled. Tropical Storm Franklin slowed to 5 miles per hour over the Gulf of Mexico. This allowed the system to rapidly intensify. By August 3rd, Franklin was already a Category 3 hurricane and still growing. The high pressure system dissipated over Texas on August 4th, but by this time, Hurricane Franklin was a strong Category 5 hurricane with winds of 190 miles per hour. The next morning at around 9:00 AM, Franklin made landfall in Galveston, Texas. Storm surge in Galveston reached 32 feet, easily topping the seawall. After making landfall, Franklin dissipated on August 7th over Central Texas. Franklin's remnants caused flooding in the Austin area as well. In all, Franklin killed 2,974 people, most in Texas, and caused $170 billion in damages, beating Katrina as the costliest storm in U.S. history.

Preparations and impact

Mexico

In preparation for the hurricane, a hurricane warning was issued for the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. Airports in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and San Miguel were closed 24 hours before the storm was due to hit.

Franklin caused an estimated $15 million in damage in Playa del Carmen. Windows were broken in several resorts along the beach. While wind damage was limited to broken windows, the storm surge flooded several hotels along the coast. The cruise terminal in Cozumel suffered moderate damage with broken windows and flooding destroying the interior. An estimated $25 million in damage was caused in Mexico.

Texas

Preparations

On August 1st, the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the Texas coast from Corpus Christi to South Padre Island. Many meteorologists expected the high pressure system to steer the storm into South Texas or Northern Mexico as a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane. However, no one expected Franklin to slow down over the Gulf. After it became evident that Franklin wasn't going to turn into South Texas, the NHC moved the watch north from Bay City to Port Arthur. On August 3rd, 48 hours before landfall, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a mandatory evacuation for 10 counties, including Harris and Galveston. In all, 4.5 million people were order to evacuate, although an estimated 25-30 thousand stayed behind for various reasons. Governor Abbott also held a press conference discussing the possible damage Franklin would cause. Houston shut down both of its airports and the shipping channel in preparation for the storm. Galveston closed its airport and the causeway leading to the island. The Carnival Freedom was returning to port as the storm approached, but was diverted to New Orleans. Both the Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens shipped their animals and aquarium stock out to other zoos to be cared for during and after the storm.

Impact

Franklin made landfall at 9:00 AM local time. Galveston suffered a direct hit from the storm and faced the full force of Franklin's winds and surge. The seawall did little to protect the city from Franklin's 32 foot surge, which quickly engulfed the city. The Galveston Pleasure Pier, built on the site of the Flagship Hotel, was quickly swallowed up by the surge. The Strand was also engulfed by 12 feet of water. The glass pyramids of Moody Gardens were left completely bare by the winds. Most of the high rise condominiums were completely gutted. It would be here where at least 200 people lost their lives. At least 90% of the houses on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula were either irrevocably damaged or destroyed in the hurricane, leaving more than 50,000 homeless. One of the only recognizable landmarks in Galveston after the hurricane was One Moody Plaza, a tall white skyscraper on the Strand. Even it was damaged beyond repair with the buildings structures being twisted out of shape. The building was imploded on December 2nd of the same year. However, not every building was leveled. The Bishop's Palace, which survived both the 1900 hurricane and Hurricane Ike survived with just some broken windows and toppled chimneys. It later became a symbol of hope after Franklin.

Houston also suffered major damage as a result of the storm. Damage in downtown Houston was reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew with most buildings losing the majority of their windows. The JP Morgan Chase Tower, the tallest building in Texas, for example, lost nearly all of its windows and outer cladding. The Houston Tunnels were completely flooded and were closed for 18 months after the storm. The Texas Medical Center lost power for 3 days, leading to dozens of patient deaths, most in hospice or intensive care. Refineries along the Houston shipping channel were shut down to check for damage and leaks after the storm. This in turn, raised the price of oil significantly for a week after the disaster. The Astrodome and Reliant Stadium were both closed for 6 months, the Astrodome being demolished in spring 2018. While Reliant Stadium was being repaired, the Houston Texans, played at the Alamodome in San Antonio for that time. Approximately 60% of buildings in the Houston area were damaged to some extent, with 25% being destroyed. While extensive wind damage across much of Houston metropolitan area was responsible for a large percentage of the damage seen, the greatest amount of damage and loss of life was due to flooding, both from storm surge, and due to the unprecedented rainfall across the region. In communities closest to Trinity Bay, such as Baytown, Texas City, and La Porte, storm surge reached over 16 feet in some locations, easily submerging the low-lying areas around the bay. The Johnson Space Center, located a mere 13 feet above sea level, saw nearly two and a half feet of inundation, damaging buildings and equipment at the facility. As Franklin further inland, the storm dumped over 40 inches of rain on East Texas, overtopping levees and earthen dams in north and west Harris County. These failures caused widespread flooding across Houston, submerging whole neighborhoods in minutes. These flash floods were the cause of the majority of the deaths associated with Franklin, as the flood waters quickly overtook people in their homes and their cars as they tried to escape.

After Franklin dissipated, its remnants continued moving to the west, dumping an additional 15 inches of rain on East and Central Texas, leading to another $90 million in damages and 24 deaths as a result of flooding. 15 bridges across the state were also destroyed in the floods following Hurricane Franklin.

Retirement

Franklin was the costliest and second deadliest storm to ever hit the United States, and because of that, the name Franklin will be retired and replaced with Fatima in the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.

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