Hurricane Ida On Dangerous Path Toward Louisiana
The storm is forecast to be a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as it approaches the northern Gulf coast by Sunday night.
Hurricane Ida hit Cuba on Friday and it is moving into the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to strike Louisiana's coastline late Sunday, prompting evacuations along the coast.
The storm picked up speed throughout Friday and now has sustained winds of 85 miles an hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At 8 a.m. Saturday Hurricane Ida was located about 385 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving at 16 mph.
Ida battered western Cuba as a category 1 and a hurricane warning remains in effect over the island's Pinar del Rio, Artemisa provinces, as well as Isle of Youth. NHC forecasters also issued a hurricane warnings for Intracoastal City, Lake Pontchatrain, and New Orleans.
They predict winds will strengthen rapidly and Ida could become a category 4 hurricane by the time it makes landfall in the U.S.
"Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous, major hurricane when it reaches the coast," the hurricane center noted.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents on Friday to "please make use of all the time that you have between now and tomorrow night to prepare for this storm."
"This is going to be a very serious storm," he added, noting storm surge warnings of up to 15 feet and alarming forecasts of up to 20 inches of rainfall.
During a Friday evening news conference, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said it was too late to order a mandatory evacuation of the city saying the storm has gained too much intensity and is moving too quickly.
Areas along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast – including New Orleans – are under a hurricane watch as Hurricane Ida continues to strengthen with a possibility of becoming a major hurricane as it approaches landfall late this weekend.
A storm surge watch also extends east to the Alabama-Florida border.
Ida strengthened into a hurricane on Friday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph with higher gusts. As of 5 p.m., it was located about 90 miles southwest of Havana, Cuba, and moving to the northwest at 15 mph.
Ray Hawthorne, meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, says Ida is forecast to rapidly intensify over the Gulf this weekend after passing over western Cuba tonight and before reaching the coast later Sunday or early Monday.
"Nearly all of the available tools we have as meteorologists are pointing toward Ida becoming a powerful hurricane this weekend -- at least Category 3 intensity,” Hawthorne said. “It's expected to pass over the deepest, warmest part of the Gulf in an environment of light wind shear. Residents and visitors within the watch areas should prepare for severe conditions on Sunday, and heed the advice of local officials."
Hawthorne said a few of the rain bands could reach the western Florida Panhandle on Sunday, but the worst of the conditions are forecast farther west. Forecasters predict peak storm surges of 7 to 11 feet are likely in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, destructive winds, and 8 to 16 inches of rain.
Tropical Storm Warnings were in effect for these areas where tropical storm conditions and 8 to 12 inches of rain are expected Friday into Saturday. Isolated areas were expected to receive rainfall amounts as much as 20 inches.
Forecasters say Ida could peak at maximum sustained winds of 115 mph as it nears the Louisiana coast on Sunday night.
The wind flow steering Ida is well-defined. A large high pressure ridge over the Carolinas will extend its influence into Florida over the weekend. The clockwise winds around this high will direct the storm toward the northwest in the direction of the Louisiana Gulf coast. Almost all of the available global models and their respective ensembles forecast a landfall in Louisiana, with much smaller chances that the center of Ida could pass over the upper Texas or Mississippi Gulf coasts.
Ida's forecast path puts it on a track where it will pass over the deepest warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. An upper-level low is causing some wind shear over Ida Friday morning, which tends to slow down a storm's intensification. This low and the resulting wind shear is expected to weaken, resulting in a warm water and low wind shear environment in the Gulf of Mexico. These two factors strongly favor Ida's rapid intensification after it moves into the Gulf and before landfall along the Gulf coast.
The worst of the weather is likely to arrive Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, and into Monday morning over the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. These areas are most likely to experience surge, hurricane force winds, and the heaviest rain. Isolated tornadoes are also possible later Sunday into Monday.
Far outer rain bands may produce pockets of heavy rain and flash flooding as far east as the western Florida Panhandle Sunday into Monday. The largest hazards in the Panhandle are likely to be rip currents and minor coastal flooding near the times of high tide.
F0lorida Public Radio Emergency Network meteorologist Ray Hawthorne contributed to this report.