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Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

Tropical Storm Ida formed Thursday night in the Caribbean near the Cayman Islands. All indications suggest that Ida will organize and scale up quickly, reaching the Gulf Coast near Louisiana on Sunday like a powerful hurricane – leaving residents little time to prepare.

The system is likely to experience rapid intensification – an increase in wind speed of 35 mph or more in 24 hours – as it moves through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and will likely strengthen further as it will touch the ground. The last track brings him very close to southeast Louisiana and New Orleans on Sunday, arriving from a very dangerous angle towards the coast.

Ida is already ahead of schedule. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expected the system to turn into a named storm later Friday at the weekend. Instead, Ida quickly gained sufficient circulation, organization, and wind speeds strong enough to be named sooner than expected.

Ida’s satellite view of the Caribbean. / Credit: CBS News

Despite the fact that it has just developed, a glance at the satellite view above shows that the bands are already visible, indicating a well organized system.

The National Hurricane Center predicts that Ida will move into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday morning, then become a hurricane and move northwest until it reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. The forecast cone indicates a possible landing between Port Arthur, Texas, and Biloxi, Mississippi, with emphasis on the Louisiana coast. That could still change, but the models generally agree on this track.

Ida is currently slated to be a strong Category 2 landing. But forecasters still recommend that residents be prepared for a category above the expected intensity.

Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

National Hurricane Center Ida Forecast Trail. / Credit: CBS News

In this case, there is a very good reason for it. Besides the fact that intensity prediction is very difficult and often lagged by large margins, this system operates in an environment extremely conducive to intensification. The only thing playing against it is the weather – it’s going fast enough that it only has about 60 hours to build up before it lands.

Ida is currently experiencing moderate wind shear aloft, disrupting its circulation. That will decrease on Saturday once the storm hits the Gulf.

In the tweet below, the top level motif is shown with the storm in the center. It illustrates the storm developing a kind of cocoon around it – meteorologists call it an envelope – which protects it from outside influences. The blue colors that develop around the storm in a large circle mark the edge of the protective casing. The storm creates a protective bubble, like an incubator, which helps it intensify.

Above 99L – as it forms over the Gulf – a protective cocoon (upper level ridge / flow) develops, repelling wind shear and allowing it to breathe as its envelope expands. Considering this and the very hot water throughout its journey, watch for a rapid build-up.

– Jeff Berardelli (@WeatherProf) August 26, 2021

This point may seem a bit technical, but the rest is simple: the storm will also move over a few areas of very hot water, which acts as a high octane to fuel the storms.

In the Caribbean, Ida will cross an ocean of extremely high thermal content, that is, warm water that extends to a great depth. Then, when the system reaches the center of the Gulf of Mexico, it will move down the infamous Loop Current: a curving stream of some of the most energy-consuming waters in the Gulf. Finally, as it nears the northern Gulf Coast, it will move over surface waters that resemble bath water – 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit – some of the warmest surface water available. .

Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

A simulation of Ida moving on hot water. / Credit: CBS News

With all of that in mind, there’s every reason to believe it will escalate quickly and possibly become a major hurricane before it makes landfall. A major hurricane is category 3 or higher.

A storm that gets stronger on landing produces much more damage than a storm that gets weaker, assuming a apple-to-apple comparison with similar wind speeds – and it’s likely that the storm will intensify further in reaching the coast.

But the devil is in the details. Each model has a slightly different response when it comes to track, intensity, and timing. In the photo below are both the European model and the American models. Both show strong storms, but the European is slower and further west. The track further east near New Orleans is problematic for two reasons: the storm would have a more direct impact on the city, and it would arrive more quickly, leaving less time for preparation.

Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

The American Ida wind gust forecasting model. / Credit: CBS News

Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

Ida’s European wind gust forecasting model. / Credit: CBS News

As the images above show, gusts of over 100 mph are likely near the point of landing. The approach angle will also cause offshore winds from the southeast, accumulating water on the coast. This type of storm – approaching from this angle, in this area – often creates a storm surge that is too high. While it is too early to predict exact numbers, there is no reason to believe that a surge greater than 10 feet will not be possible.

Finally, the system carries a lot of tropical moisture, and it will likely slow down once it moves to the coast. Along and east of the path, total rains of more than a foot will be possible. Pair that with saturated soil much above normal precipitation over the past 90 days, and there will be serious flooding issues.

Gulf Coast residents warned to prepare for Category 3 hurricane

Ida’s expected precipitation. / Credit: CBS News

As preparation time is limited, anyone in Ida’s path should immediately take precautions. This means you need to make sure your hurricane safety kit is stocked and that you have a plan for your family. Time will be limited to make last minute preparations, so get started as early as possible.

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