Hurricane Laura is expected to be an “extremely powerful Category 4 hurricane” with “unsurvivable storm surge” of up to 20 feet and 145-mph winds when it reaches the Gulf Coast on Wednesday night and early Thursday, the hurricane center said.
SABINE PASS, Texas – Hurricane Laura is expected to be an “extremely powerful Category 4 hurricane” with “unsurvivable storm surge” of up to 20 feet and 145-mph winds when it reaches the Gulf Coast on Wednesday night and early Thursday, the hurricane center said.
Laura, which grew to a Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon with 140-mph winds, is forecast to bring “potentially catastrophic” storm surge, fierce winds and flash flooding to eastern Texas and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center said.
Laura is the strongest August hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since infamous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said.
More than half a million people were ordered to evacuate as the storm approached, including the Texas cities of Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur.
“Hurricane Laura is a very dangerous and rapidly intensifying hurricane,” President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “My Administration remains fully engaged with state & local emergency managers to continue preparing and assisting the great people (of) Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday, “This is a tough storm – big, powerful, and every forecast seems to increase the intensity.”
The storm intensified a “remarkable” amount in the past 24 hours, the hurricane center said. And Laura is growing: “Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles,” forecasters said.
“It looks like it’s in full beast mode,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “Which is not what you want to see if you’re in its way.”
The storm, moving northwest at 16 mph, was spotted 175 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and 175 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, as of 3 p.m. CDT Wednesday. It’s the first major hurricane of the 2020 season.
One major Louisiana highway had standing water as Laura’s outer bands moved ashore with tropical-storm-force winds.
“We are expecting widespread power outages, trees down. Homes and businesses will be damaged,” said Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles.
“I’m telling you, this is going to be a very serious situation,” Jones said.
The hurricane center said parts of the Louisiana coast from Johnson Bayou to the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge could see waters rise as much as 20 feet from “the combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide.”
Storm surge could reach as far as 30 miles inland from the coastline, the hurricane center said. “Actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion as water levels will begin to rise later today.”
Edwards said he expects Interstate 10 in Lake Charles and beyond to go under water, hampering search-and-rescue efforts. “It will be inundated,” he said Wednesday.
Sabine Pass, Texas, a low-lying coastal town on the Texas-Louisiana line, was mostly boarded up and deserted Tuesday after residents got out of Laura’s path. Trucks and trailers were left behind, parked on grassy berms to try to avoid the expected 10- to 15-feet storm surge.
Sabine Pass has been smashed repeatedly in recent years, first by Rita in 2005, then Ike in 2008.
The town has built back and boasts a top-notch school district, good fishing offshore and the quiet friendliness of a small town. The frequency of strong storms continually raises questions about its future.
Allison Getz, spokeswoman for Jefferson County, which includes Sabine Pass, said emergency officials are worried about residents staying behind in the lower stretches of the county. The county estimates at least half of its 250,000 residents have left. Sabine Pass, in particular, could be hit hard, she said.
“The concern is that they’ll be wiped out again as they have been in the past,” Getz said. “But they’re a resilient group and they’ve always been back.”
Hurricane Laura spins in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 26.
Charlie Parfait, 61, has ridden out a number of storms in this region. This time, he wasn’t taking any chances. He loaded an ice machine and other equipment from his wife’s eatery, Tammie’s Diner, onto his pickup and headed to higher ground.
Rita swept away the original eatery, known as the Olde Time Diner, and they replaced it with a trailer that could be driven away when storms approach. He didn’t expect much would be left after Laura.
“When Laura hits, it’s going to be catastrophic,” Parfait said.
The hurricane threatens a center of the U.S. energy industry. The government said 84% of Gulf oil production and 61% of natural gas production were shut down. Nearly 300 platforms have been evacuated.
After Laura makes landfall, the storm is expected to weaken rapidly as it makes its way north, then turns northeast.
The storm is expected to bring as much as 15 inches of rain to isolated pockets in Louisiana and Texas. A few tornadoes may be seen in Louisiana, far southeast Texas and southwestern Mississippi, the hurricane center said.
The most recent major hurricane to make landfall in Texas was Harvey in 2017, which had 130-mph maximum winds, Klotzbach said. In Louisiana, it was Rita in 2005, with 115-mph maximum winds.
The Atlantic hurricane season has been a record-breaker. Laura is the earliest L-named storm in the Atlantic Basin, breaking a record held by Luis, which formed Aug. 29, 1995. This season has had 13 named storms, which is well above-normal activity.