NWS: Cold front concerns pelicans, rescuers

An incoming cold front will provide relief from warm weather, but it also spells peril for pelicans that nest in the Bahia Grande.

A strong cold front is expected to move into the Rio Grande Valley on Friday and drop temperatures to the low 60s, said Matthew Brady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Brownsville. Northern winds are expected to be 25-30 mph with possibly higher gusts, and temperatures will likely be in the low 50s by Saturday morning.

Last month, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that motorists struck and killed more than 40 pelicans landing on the Carl “Joe” Gayman Bridge, a stretch of Highway 48 connecting Brownsville and Port Isabel.

“These conditions lead to the pelicans landing onto the roadways, and we would like to spread the word to please drive cautiously in this area,” he said. “There may also be volunteers out there to help the pelicans get off the roadway, as well.”

Octavio Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman, said a TxDOT study of the bridge yielded a design for concrete rails to mitigate the conditions that cause the birds to land there. The rails are expected to be added by winter 2019. Currently, the Highway 48 bridge creates a vortex during cold fronts pushing in from the north that makes it difficult for pelicans to fly over or take off from the bridge, putting them in the path of oncoming vehicles.

“Like when you’re in an airplane and there’s an air pocket, and the airplane drops. It’s the same thing with the pelicans,” Saenz said. “They need room to lift off again, and (they’re) working with this negative pressure.”

He echoed Brady’s message for motorists to be on the lookout for volunteers rescuing pelicans on Highway 48.

“Law enforcement has usually been out there with them, but safety is our primary mandate,” Saenz said, “and we want to make sure everyone goes home at the end of the day.”

Weekend highs will likely remain in the 50s and 60s, possibly rising to the low 70s on Sunday, Brady said. The cooler weather could extend into next week, he added.

“Additionally, we do expect chances for rain along and behind the front,” Brady said, though the precipitation would likely be light. “Get sweaters and jackets ready for Friday and even into next week.”