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'This Is Not A Storm To Fool With': Hurricane Laura Could Reach Category 3

A satelite image of Hurricane Laura, Aug. 25, 2020.

In a Tuesday evening update, the City of New Orleans said it continues to monitor Hurricane Laura, still predicted to reach land as a Category 3 hurricane tomorrow.

Areas of Orleans Parish outside of levee protection, including Venetian Isles, Lake Catherine, and Irish Bayou, are still under a storm surge watch and an evacuation order. Two to 4 feet of flooding is possible there. 

All of the New Orleans area should be prepared for heavy rain, wind or tornadoes if one of Laura's bands passes over.

Now that the city is expecting less of hit from the storm, services will return to normal. That trash and recycling collection will happen as usual tomorrow, and City Hall, the New Orleans Recreation Department, and New Orleans Public Libraries will operate normally. (To be clear, that's the coronavirus version of normal.) Neutral ground parking ends Wednesday morning.

1 p.m. Tuesday

As of 1 p.m., a hurricane warning is in effect for San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, and a hurricane watch is in effect east of Intracoastal City to west of Morgan City, Louisiana.

In Louisiana, there's a storm surge warning east of Intracoastal City to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and a storm surge watch for the mouth of the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and Lake Borgne.

Hurricane Laura is still out over the Gulf of Mexico, moving west-northwest, the National Hurricane Center reports. Its maximum sustained winds are near 75 mph, with higher gusts. The storm is expected to strength significantly over the next 36 hours, building into a major hurricane by the time it makes landfall at the western coast of Louisiana and upper Texas coast.

Credit NOAA

Hurricane-force winds reach up to 45 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force wins range outward up to 175 miles, according to the National Hurricane Center.

11:30 a.m. Tuesday

Hurricane Laura is gathering strength as it moves toward western Louisiana and far eastern Texas, and New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Colin Arnold said "it’s getting more and more clear that Laura is going to be a major hurricane."

"A Category 3 is what they’re talking about now," he added.

Heavy rain is expected to begin, possibly, Tuesday night, but definitely Wednesday.

There's a storm surge watch in effect for parts of Orleans Parish outside levee protection, where they're anticipating 3 to 5 feet of storm surge between today and tomorrow. In the Lake Charles area, the storm surge could be as much as 13 feet.

"So this is not a storm to fool with," Arnold said.

Beau Tidwell, New Orleans' communications director, said there's a 20 to 40 percent chance of tropical-storm-force winds beginning, "most realistically," tomorrow morning, but possibly overnight. 

Two to 4 inches of rain are expected through Thursday.

"It’s one of those issues where rainfall rate is the key on this," Tidwell said. "Once you get a 6-, 8-inch-per-hour rainfall rate for one to 20 minutes, you’re going to have street flooding in the City of New Orleans."

10 a.m. Tuesday

Hurricane Laura is expected to reach the northwestern Gulf Coast at "near major hurricane strength intensity" Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center reports.

A hurricane warning is in effect from San Luis Pass, Texas, to west of Morgan City, Louisiana. Those areas will probably see tropical storm conditions starting Wednesday afternoon. There's also a danger of life-threatening storm surge from San Luis Pass to the mouth of the Mississippi, and an increasing threat of "mild to isolated moderate" river flooding and urban flooding across Louisiana, Arkansas and far eastern Texas.

Credit National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center

Credit National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center

As a reminder: storm surge, strong winds and heavy rains can extend well beyond the cone depicting a storm's likely path. 

The New Orleans/Baton Rouge office of the National Weather Service says to expect locally heavy rainfall and gusty winds inside any bands that develop Wednesday and Thursday. "Short-lived" tornados are also possible within the bands. 

9 a.m. Tuesday

Laura has reached hurricane strength, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center reported around 7 a.m. 

As of the National Weather Service's 4 a.m. update, the storm is headed toward western Louisiana and eastern Texas. 

Meanwhile, Marco continues to weaken off the southern coast of Louisiana, and the National Weather Service will not be issuing any more advisories on it going forward.

7:20 p.m. Monday

The forecast for Tropical Storm Laura remained largely unchanged by late Monday, causing Gov. John Bel Edwards to again warn Louisiana to brace for what could be the strongest storm since Hurricane Rita.

Laura is still forecast to be a strong Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall late Wednesday, with winds between 100 and 110 mph, and could possibly strengthen to a Category 3, Edwards said at a press conference Monday evening.

He again warned of heavy rains, wind, storm surge and possibility of tornadoes for much of Louisiana, including areas outside the storm’s central path. The current forecast shows the storm making landfall along southwest Louisiana and heading west, but Edwards warned that a slight shift in that path could thrust hurricane winds over Baton Rouge.

“So please don’t become fixated on the cone,” he warned. “Everybody should understand this is going to be a very large, very powerful storm.”

The storm’s initial impacts will begin to be felt Wednesday morning, with landfall expected by late Wednesday. The storm is projected to move quickly, lessening the impact of heavy rains and forcing the storm out of Louisiana’s borders within 12 to 15 hours, Edwards said.

A storm surge watch is in effect for the entire coast, with 7 to 11 feet of surge expected between the Atchafalaya River and the Texas border.

Edwards urged people to take advantage of one final day to prepare for the storm. State offices are closed in areas with mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, and the governor will announce a possible state-wide closure on Tuesday.

2 p.m. Monday

A chipper Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she was “pleased by the weakening of Marco,” which has continued to weaken as it approaches the Louisiana coast and is now expected to make landfall as a tropical depression.

Still, she urged residents to remain prepared for heavy rain over the next few days and the looming threat of Tropical Storm Laura.

“So we are in no way out of the woods,” she said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director Colin Arnold compared today’s situation to a Saints game.

“We’re at halftime right now,” he said. “It was kind of an uneventful first half, thankfully. We’re all happy about that. But we still have a third and fourth quarter to go in this. And that’s Laura. And that’s Wednesday.”

Tropical Storm Marco is expected to continue to weaken as it approaches the Louisiana coast, but could still bring heavy rains to the area.
Credit National Hurricane Center
Tropical Storm Marco is expected to continue to weaken as it approaches the Louisiana coast, but could still bring heavy rains to the area.

Some services will be restored Tuesday

With a little room to breathe, Cantrell said City Hall would be open Tuesday. RTA will move to limited service this afternoon, Arnold said, and will resume normal service on Tuesday.

Garbage collection will resume normal schedules Tuesday as well. Residents whose trash was not picked up on Monday are asked to wait until their next collection day to put their bins on the curb.

Arnold urged residents to retrieve and secure their bins from the curb as soon as possible once they’re emptied, Arnold said, “because we don’t want those becoming floating debris hazards with the potential of street flooding for Laura.”

Not a lot of volleyball happening as parked cars pack the Jeff Davis Parkway neutral ground Monday afternoon to avoid street flooding ahead of Tropical Storm Marco's arrival.
Credit Travis Lux / WWNO
Not a lot of volleyball happening as parked cars pack the Jeff Davis Parkway neutral ground Monday afternoon to avoid street flooding ahead of Tropical Storm Marco's arrival.

Threat of “rain bombs” is most concerning to local officials

Tropical Storm Laura is expected to gather strength in the Gulf before making landfall later this week as a hurricane near the Texas-Louisiana border. Current graphics from the National Hurricane Center show New Orleans outside the “cone of uncertainty,” which is meant to illustrate where the center of a storm might head.

Storms can be hundreds of miles wide, meaning severe impacts can be felt well outside of that cone. In New Orleans, Cantrell said she’s most concerned about the rain.

“An upward of 6 inches of rain is a big deal,” Cantrell said, adding that she hopes to see Laura’s forecast path continue to shift away from the city.

Cantrell said local officials are always concerned about the potential for “rain bombs” that drop a lot of rain in a short amount of time and threaten to overwhelm the city’s drainage infrastructure.

“Our system is old and antiquated and there’s always room, when you’re dealing with a system like ours, for things to trip up,” she said. “But it’s making sure that we’re taking all the necessary precautions, and we are.”

12:50 p.m. Monday

Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Louisianans to prepare for Tropical Storm Laura to make landfall along the southwest coast of the state as a “very strong” Category 2 hurricane.

Edwards said he was concerned people let down their guard after Tropical Storm Marco, which will make landfall later today, weakened over the last 24 hours.

“The good news is we're not going to have two hurricanes. And we're not going to have that short window of time, 12 to 18 hours, to try to do search and rescue and so forth ahead of Laura,” Edwards said in a press conference Monday morning.

But he warned that Laura’s track remains centered on Louisiana’s south-west coast, and forecasts continue to project at least a Category 2 hurricane.

“We’re only going to dodge the bullet so many times,” he said.

Read more here.

11 a.m. Monday

Heavy rain and gusty winds are expected later today as Tropical Storm Marco continues to press toward the Louisiana coast.

Three to 6 inches of rain are possible in the New Orleans area, with locally higher amounts, according to the National Weather Service. So are gusty winds, which are expected to be in the 20 to 30 mph range, with a potential for stronger gusts.

Hurricane watches have been canceled across the state due to Marco’s weakening over the last 24 hours, but tropical storm warnings are still in place for much of southeast Louisiana’s coastal region.

Marco is expected to continue to weaken after it makes landfall and moves west across south Louisiana. As a result, tropical storm warnings have been canceled for the “central portions of the Louisiana coast,” according to a 10 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Storm Laura could strengthen rapidly

Tropical Storm Laura slowly battered Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba over the weekend.

The storm is still located off the southern coast of Cuba, but is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico tonight, where “a period of rapid strengthening is possible,” according to a 10 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

It’s currently forecast to make landfall as a hurricane near the Texas-Louisiana border Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Storm surge and hurricane watches related to Laura will likely be issued later today, the National Hurricane Center said Monday morning.

National Hurricane Center forecasters urge people not to pay too much attention to where a given storm makes landfall, or its intensity, since threats like wind, storm surge and heavy rain can extend far from its center.

8:15 a.m. Monday

Hurricane watches and warnings have ended for Louisiana as Marco weakened to a tropical storm overnight, according to an update from the National Weather Service. But the storm system is still expected to bring heavy rain, gusty winds and a potentially dangerous storm surge in areas.

Tropical Storm Marco, which weakened from a hurricane, is expected to make landfall in Louisiana around midday. Much of southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, remains under a tropical storm warning.

"Gusty winds, dangerous storm surge, and heavy rainfall are expected from Marco along portions of the Gulf Coast beginning later today," the National Weather Service reported in its 4 a.m. update.

Tropical Storm Laura is expected to hit Louisiana on Wednesday, likely as a hurricane.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.
Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.
Ashley Dean is the digital news editor for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was the editor of Denverite, a digital news startup now under the Colorado Public Radio umbrella. Prior to that she was a copy editor and features writer at the Denver Post, and before that, a music reporter for the Colorado Daily. She graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in journalism and from Northeastern University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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