With Tropical Storm Marco out of the way, the stage is now set for Hurricane Laura to deliver a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast late Wednesday and early Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center projected Tuesday morning that Laura will become a Category 3 “major” hurricane before landfall, with winds of around 115 mph. A major hurricane has winds of at least 111 mph.
“Residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts should anticipate the possibility that Laura will rapidly intensify right up until landfall,” said meteorologist Jeff Masters of Yale Climate Connections.
In addition to the fierce winds, the hurricane is expected to bring a huge storm surge of Gulf sea water ashore, forecasters warned, potentially as high as 11 feet near the Texas/Louisiana border. On top of that, up to 15 inches of rain could fall in some spots in Louisiana.
The Hurricane Center issued storm surge and hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings late Monday for portions of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Mississippi.
“Today (Tuesday) is the day to prepare if you are in a watch area because the weather will be going downhill by Wednesday afternoon,” the Hurricane Center said.
In Port Arthur, Texas, Mayor Thurman Bartie issued a mandatory evacuation order for the city’s more than 54,000 residents starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
In the southwest corner of Louisiana, Capt. Tommy Adams, a local fishing guide, was prepared for anything but said “you never know what’s going to happen.
“I’m moving to a house a little more inland just to be on the safe side, probably about an hour north, just to be on the safe side,” said Adams, who also lives in Sulphur.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told a news briefing Monday, “We’re only going to dodge the bullet so many times. And the current forecast for Laura has it focused intently on Louisiana.”
State emergencies were declared in Louisiana and Mississippi, and shelters were opened with cots set farther apart, among other measures designed to curb coronavirus infections.
Laura had top winds of 75 mph Tuesday morning after passing between the western tip of Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It was centered 625 miles southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and moving toward the U.S. coast at 17 mph.
“Laura will briefly track over the shallow wake of cooler water left in the Gulf from Marco; this might slow Laura’s intensification process but only briefly,” AccuWeather’s lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said. “Then, Laura will be over very warm water and in a low wind shear environment, which will favor strengthening.”
Laura passed Cuba after killing at least 11 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where it knocked out power and caused flooding in the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola.
The most recent major hurricane to make landfall in Texas was Harvey in 2017, with 130 mph maximum winds, said Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. 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.