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Gulf Coast braces for direct hit from Ida, which could hit as a ‘devastating’ Category 3 hurricane on Sunday

Tropical Storm Ida in the Atlantic (NOAA Satellites/Flickr)

The National Hurricane Center said the system will undergo “rapid intensification” and be “near major hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday.”

— The storm is shaping up to be “probably be the strongest storm of the season thus far.”

— Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency due to the potential impacts from Ida.

Hurricane and storm surge watches were issued Friday morning for several Gulf Coast states as Tropical Storm Ida barreled toward the southern U.S., with forecasters warning it could rapidly intensify into one of the strongest storms of the Atlantic hurricane season so far.

Ida could slam into Louisiana as a “devastating” Category 3 hurricane with winds up to 120 mph by Sunday afternoon or evening, forecasters said. “The forecast track has it headed straight towards New Orleans. Not good,” said Jim Kossin, a climate and hurricane scientist with the Climate Service.

The storm is shaping up to be “probably be the strongest storm of the season thus far,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said Thursday.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Thursday evening due to the potential impacts from Ida.

“Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone for Tropical Storm Ida, which is strengthening and could come ashore in Louisiana as a major hurricane as Gulf conditions are conducive for rapid intensification,” Edwards said. “Now is the time for people to finalize their emergency game plan, which should take into account the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Small towns on the Gulf of Mexico coast have already started telling residents to flee and New Orleans is giving away free sandbags so residents can bolster their homes, Bloomberg News said.

When the system reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday, the Hurricane Center predicts it will be “at or near major hurricane intensity.”

The Hurricane Center defines “major hurricanes” as Category 3 or higher. Category 3 storms have winds of 111-129 mph and “devastating damage will occur” with storms of that strength.

On its current track, the storm could cause as much as $25 billion in damage and losses, Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, told Bloomberg.

Dangerous storm surge was also possible along the Gulf Coast. If it pushes a storm surge at high tide, Ida could overlap some levees, with 7 to 11 feet of water predicted from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

“There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, especially along the coast of Louisiana,” the hurricane center said.

Ida is also expected to produce heavy rains across the central Gulf Coast from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi, Alabama, as well as the Lower Mississippi Valley starting Sunday into Monday, resulting in considerable flash, urban, small stream, and river flooding.

As of 11 a.m. EDT Friday, the storm was located about 200 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba and was moving northwest at about 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings were issued for western Cuba.

After its impact with Cuba, the storm is projected to slice across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where rapid intensification is possible, as has been the case with several notorious storms in recent years such as Hurricane Michael in 2018, which struck the Florida Panhandle, and Hurricane Laura in 2020, which slammed southwestern Louisiana, AccuWeather said.

Sunday is 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi as a catastrophic Category 3 storm. Nearly 2,000 people died during Katrina and damage was reportedly $125 billion, according to NOAA. It left about 80% of New Orleans underwater.


(c) 2021 USA Today

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