Hurricane Ida was expected to “rapidly intensify” on Saturday on its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast as people there prepared for it to make landfall as a life-threatening Category 4 storm on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, forecasters said.
As of 8 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, the storm had moved away from Cuba and was on its way toward the southeastern Gulf of Mexico with sustained wind speeds reaching 85 miles per hour, the center said in an advisory.
The center of the storm could reach Louisiana late Sunday or early Monday as a hurricane, with maximum winds of 110 m.p.h. and gusts of up to 130 m.p.h., according to the center’s tracking model.
Ida was expected to then turn northward and slow down as it churned through Louisiana and western Mississippi, forecasters said.
“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Louisiana,” the center said on Twitter on Friday afternoon, adding that parts of Louisiana could expect floods and “potentially catastrophic” hurricane-force winds on Sunday.
Parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts should be prepared for life-threatening storm surges of up to 15 feet on Sunday, the center said. Louisiana could expect tropical storm-force winds as early as Saturday night, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said on Twitter.
Gov. John Bel Edwards urged the people of Louisiana to use Saturday to prepare for the storm. He declared a state of emergency on Friday ahead of Ida’s arrival.
“Take it seriously,” he said on Friday night. “This is going to be a very serious storm.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans on Friday ordered all residents outside the city’s levee system to evacuate by Saturday morning. The areas under the evacuation order included the city’s Lake Catherine, Venetian Isles and Irish Bayou areas, the mayor said on Twitter.
Along the Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch was issued from Cameron, La., to the border of Mississippi and Alabama.
A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil said on Friday afternoon that the company was evacuating its employees from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico in preparation for the storm.
Sunday is the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in the state. That storm unleashed catastrophic floods and blistering winds, producing one of country’s costliest disasters ever.
Forecasters warned that Ida could cause life-threatening flash flooding, mudslides and rip currents. Ida is expected to bring up to 16 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 20 inches from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama through Monday morning.
Jamaica had been expected to receive six to 10 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 15 inches, while the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba could receive eight to 12 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up 20 inches, the center said.
It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who monitored three named storms that formed in quick succession in the Atlantic, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to different parts of the United States and the Caribbean.
First came Tropical Storm Fred, which made landfall on Aug. 16 in the Florida Panhandle. As Fred moved across the Southeast, it brought heavy rains and touched off several tornadoes. At least five people were killed after flash floods wiped out homes in Western North Carolina in the wake of the storm.
Grace formed in the eastern Caribbean on Aug. 14, the same day a 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti’s western peninsula. The storm quickly moved west as the country struggled to free people trapped in rubble, bringing at least 10 inches of rain. Grace then made another landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula, bringing more heavy rain, power failures and hundreds of evacuations. A third landfall, on the eastern coast of Mexico’s mainland, left at least eight people dead.
And Henri formed on Aug. 16 as a tropical storm off the East Coast of the United States.
It strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane but was downgraded before making landfall in Rhode Island, sparing the region the worst of what had been predicted. It thrashed the Northeast with fierce winds and torrential rain, knocking out power to more than 140,000 households from New Jersey to Maine. Some communities in Connecticut were evacuated and rainfall records in New York City were shattered.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surges — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.
A major United Nations climate report released in August warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have probably become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.
Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season would be an above average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.
Matthew Rosencrans, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30. Ida is the ninth named storm of 2021.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Neil Vigdor, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Christine Hauser and Alyssa Lukpat contributed reporting.
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