A fast-charging tropical storm strengthened into a hurricane Friday as it moved toward Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states, threatening to strike the region on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this weekend.
Ida, the ninth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to produce life-threatening storm surges, dangerous winds and rainfall accumulations of up to 20 inches from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama. A hurricane watch is in effect for parts of those three states, including the New Orleans metro area.
“We do have a major storm heading our way,” Cantrell told reporters at a news conference as she urged residents to start preparing.
“Landfall is expected sometime on Sunday,” she said. “This is the time to take action.”
As of Friday afternoon, Ida was packing winds of up to 75 mph as it passed by Cuba’s Isle of Youth, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, all of which faced the threat of heavy rains, flash floods and deadly mudslides, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is forecast to become even stronger, possibly turning into a Category 3 hurricane, when it makes landfall somewhere in or near Louisiana on Sunday — 16 years to the day since Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, ultimately killing more than 1,800 people in what turned out to be the costliest storm in U.S. history.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency ahead of Ida’s arrival.
“Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone” for Hurricane Ida, Edwards said in his emergency declaration.
“Now is the time for people to finalize their emergency game plan, which should take into account the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “This type of threat contains additional problems because the window to prepare is so short. By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm.”
Meteorologists warned that Ida could become a major hurricane, meaning winds would reach at least 111 mph, by the time it strikes the Gulf Coast states. That’s partly because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is “incredibly warm,” helping the storm “intensify significantly” before making landfall, NHC Director Ken Graham said in a video briefing Friday.
“It’s a dangerous system,” Graham said.
“You’ve got two days to get ready. Listen to those local officials if they’re telling you to get out of some of these areas because of that storm surge. Definitely listen to them,” he said.
“Everybody in Louisiana and along the coast needs to prepare for a hurricane that could come as early as late Sunday, potentially on Monday, and it could be a major hurricane. It’s time to prepare now,” Edwards said at a news conference.
The NHC has also issued a tropical storm watch for the Mississippi-Alabama border and the Alabama-Florida state line, with the latter also under a storm surge watch.