The National Hurricane Center warned that Hurricane Laura will cause “life-threatening storm surge” reaching up to 40 miles inland and rising up to 20 feet as the storm made landfall in Texas and Louisiana.
Laura reached the Gulf Coast after midnight on Thursday morning at an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 strength, with winds reaching 140 mph. After landfall, it weakened to a still dangerous Category 2 storm.
During a Wednesday news conference, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Laura’s storm surge would reach levels not seen since 1957’s Hurricane Audrey.
“The storm surge flooding is starting now in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “It’s well ahead of the storm. It will just get worse over the next day or so.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott implored residents to evacuate. “The conditions of this storm are unsurvivable, and I urge Southeast Texans to take advantage of these final few hours to evacuate, secure their property, and take all precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” he said at a Wednesday press conference.
Laura is expected to cause flash floods and a life-threatening storm surge in areas from High Island, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, inundating places that rarely see such high water levels.
About 20 million people reside in the path of the storm and more than 500,000 have been ordered to evacuate, a task complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC reported in its latest hurricane bulletin. Storm surge, where high winds push water inland several feet above high tide, is often the deadliest consequence of hurricanes.
Laura may also spawn tornadoes and drench the Gulf Coast with up to 10 inches of rainfall. Initially, Laura was projected to make landfall alongside Hurricane Marco, but Marco weakened to tropical storm strength and quickly fizzled out as it made landfall on Tuesday.
Laura, on the other hand, underwent rapid intensification, a hallmark of several recent major hurricanes. Rapid intensification is defined as a gain of 35 mph or more in wind speed over 24 hours. In Laura’s case, the storm went from below hurricane strength with 65 mph winds early Tuesday to Category 4 strength on Wednesday, then weakened somewhat to a Category 2 storm after hitting land, with winds still dangerously high. Further weakening is expected on Thursday.
The storm’s US landfall comes amid an unusually active hurricane season, one that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted back in May.
For Gulf Coast residents, Laura is stirring eerie echoes of past storms. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 swept over Texas at Category 4 strength and inundated Houston with a gargantuan amount of rain that left the city soaked for weeks.
Laura is also making landfall in the US around the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm that resulted in 1,200 deaths as it struck New Orleans. Both Harvey and Katrina are tied as the costliest storms on record. Laura is now the strongest August hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Katrina, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach told USA Today. The storm is believed to have killed at least 23 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The destruction recent storms caused was fueled by coastal development in vulnerable areas as well as climate change amplifying sea-level rise, and the damaging elements of extreme weather like heavy rainfall.
It’s likely Laura will also come with a high price tag. “I do expect this to be a multi-billion dollar disaster,” said meteorologist Jeff Masters on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
Forecasts show that Laura’s current course takes the storm far inland to states like Arkansas before hooking east on Friday.
How to follow Hurricane Laura:
- The National Hurricane Center has a page updating every few hours with the latest watches and warnings for Laura. Check it out.
- Follow the National Hurricane Center on Twitter; it will provide updates with all the latest forecasts, hazards, and warnings.
- Follow the Capital Weather Gang’s Twitter account. These folks tend to live-tweet storm updates.
- Here’s a Twitter list of weather experts via meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus. These experts will give you up-to-the-second forecasts and warnings.
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