Laura has intensified to hurricane strength now that’s it’s cleared Cuba and moved into the Gulf of Mexico, and while drawing energy from warm waters, it is on track to become a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall. The gusty weather on the back end of the storm will let up in the Lower Keys through the day as the storm moves farther away into the Gulf.
The computer forecast models have shifted a bit overnight raising the possibility of a major hurricane emergency in the sprawling Houston metro area.
The areas in the bullseye on the northwestern Gulf coast appear to extend from Metro Houston to Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas, and into southwestern Louisiana. These are the same areas that were drowned by Harvey in 2018. Though this time, Laura should keep moving, so the threats from this storm will be damaging wind and extreme storm surge.
The entire Gulf coast is tremendously vulnerable to the Gulf water being swept up over the shoreline and piled deep over normally dry land. The initial forecast is for the Gulf water to rise 7 to 11 feet above the normal high-tide level, which is clearly impossible to survive for people who stay at the coast. The big question this morning is, how much of the coastline should evacuate?
Laura is quickly recovering from its encounter with Cuba and a period of slightly hostile upper winds. It’s forecast to steadily intensify as it powers into the northwestern Gulf. The upper winds over the Gulf are forecast to be a noninhibiting factor, unfortunately, all the way to landfall. The Gulf water, as always, is plenty warm enough to energize an intense storm.
The current forecast is for a Category 3 hurricane to make landfall, which means preparations have to anticipate a Category 4. Recall that Hurricane Ike in 2008, which devastated the Texas coast, was only a Category 2.
All along, the computer forecast models have indicated that a stronger storm would favor the left side of the National Hurricane Center’s forecast cone, and that trend has continued. The official forecast is slowly shifting westward in response to that trend. Forecasters want to see if the next round of computer forecasts continues the trend before shifting the cone farther toward Houston.
A full leftward shift would aim the cone at the highly populated and complex Houston metropolitan area, which has tremendous ramifications. Hurricane Rita in 2005 prompted a chaotic evacuation in which upwards of 100 people died. Local governments have significantly improved their plans since then, but a major evacuation in a giant metropolitan area is still a daunting proposition – and then, of course, there are COVID concerns.
If Hurricane Laura misses Houston to the right, Beaumont and Port Arthur are in its path, plus the areas near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Gulf water will rise as far east as Mississippi. These are all extremely vulnerable parts of the coast. It’s a scary situation.
Hurricane Laura is forecast to come ashore late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
At least Tropical Storm Marco died out yesterday with little fanfare. Super-hostile upper winds killed it off, but unfortunately those winds have now moved away.
Elsewhere in the tropics nothing is brewing immediately. Though the long-range-computer forecast models indicate that we might have a disturbance off Africa that we’ll have to watch next week.