Hurricane Ida is strengthening to potentially catastrophic and life-threatening proportions as it reaches the Gulf Coast. Louisiana is under a state of emergency as the storm barrels toward New Orleans, with landfall expected Sunday afternoon.
Early Sunday morning, the National Hurricane Center announced Ida had been upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 150 mph. In its 7 a.m. CT advisory, the center gave an increased sense of urgency about Ida, warning of “life-threatening” storm surges.
Just before 8 a.m. CT, the National Hurricane Center reported that hurricane force winds were being felt on the shore of southeast Louisiana as the storm moved within about 100 miles of New Orleans.
Ida’s expected arrival comes 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina first made landfall in southern Louisiana — causing over 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage across the region.
Ida is strengthening and could become a Category 5 storm
Jamie Rhome, the acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, told NPR that Ida could still intensify as it approaches Louisiana. Should Ida reach sustained winds of 157 mph or greater, it would be deemed a Category 5 hurricane.
“It shows absolutely no signs of weakening,” Rhome said. “In fact, it may be still strengthening a little bit — even as it approaches the coastline.”
The National Hurricane Center has not given a specific timeline for when Ida will make landfall, simply forecasting it would reach Louisiana sometime Sunday afternoon. Rhome said the storm’s massive size is likely to cause widespread damage across the region.
“You’re talking about a wide swath of hurricane force winds pushing inland over this afternoon and evening, impacting the New Orleans area with hurricane force winds and certainly gusts in that those conditions would absolutely bring down trees, widespread power outages,” Rhome said.
In a Saturday briefing, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Ida is expected be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Louisiana since the 1850s.
The governor said he was urging residents all across Louisiana to be careful as residents across the state were beginning to evacuate.
“While the storm will weaken after it makes landfall, it is such a strong storm at the outset that it’s going to be extremely powerful as far north as Baton Rouge and even further,” Edwards said.
Climate change is making storms much more powerful
Hurricanes are more likely to be larger and more powerful when they form over hotter ocean water, as Ida has done. Climate change is causing global sea surface temperatures to rise.
“We’re seeing the impacts from hurricanes increase — owing to climate change — due to a myriad of reasons. They tend to hold more rain in a warmer environment,” Rhome said. “In the summer, it’s muggy [and] holds more moisture. Same is true with with hurricanes. If you’re warmer, they can hold more moisture, which means you get more rain or more potential for really heavy rainfall.”
In a virtual briefing on Saturday, President Biden said Americans have seen other extreme weather events in recent weeks. He also noted the lingering effect of the coronavirus pandemic on emergency response efforts.
“Hurricane Ida is coming fast on the heels of a tragic flooding in Tennessee, Tropical Storm Henri, and you’ve all been part of the COVID-19 response for so many months now,” the president said. “You’ve been overwhelmed, but you don’t show it. You’ve been incredible.”