- The National Hurricane Center said the system will undergo “rapid intensification” and be “near major hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday.”
- The storm is shaping up to be “probably be the strongest storm of the season thus far.”
- Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency due to the potential impacts from Ida.
Ida strengthened into a hurricane Friday afternoon as Gulf Coast states prepared for a direct hit from the storm, which forecasters warn could rapidly intensify into one of the strongest storms of the Atlantic hurricane season so far.
New Orleans issued mandatory evacuations for coastal communities outside the city’s levee system, which protects from flooding. The city’s mayor, LaToya Cantrell, ordered those in coastal communities bordering both Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain – two large bodies of water that connect to the Gulf of Mexico – to leave immediately.
The rest of the parish was under voluntary evacuation orders. “Now is the time,” Cantrell said.
The incoming storm could provide a test for the city’s levee system, which was reconstructed after Hurricane Katrina. The system’s failure in the 2005 storm helped flood 80% of the city, with areas under 6 to 20 feet of water.
Ida is forecast to hit the area Sunday – 16 years to the day that Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi as a catastrophic Category 3 storm. Nearly 2,000 people died during Katrina and damage was reportedly $125 billion, according to NOAA.
New Hurricane and storm surge watches were issued Friday morning for several Gulf Coast states. Forecasters say Ida could slam into Louisiana as a “devastating” Category 3 hurricane with winds up to 120 mph. “The forecast track has it headed straight towards New Orleans. Not good,” said Jim Kossin, a climate and hurricane scientist with the Climate Service.
The storm is shaping up to be “probably be the strongest storm of the season thus far,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said Thursday.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Thursday evening due to the potential impacts from Ida.
“Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone for Tropical Storm Ida, which is strengthening and could come ashore in Louisiana as a major hurricane as Gulf conditions are conducive for rapid intensification,” Edwards said. “Now is the time for people to finalize their emergency game plan, which should take into account the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
Multiple locations along Louisiana’s coast also began issuing evacuation orders on Friday, including Port Fourchon and Grand Isle.
Traffic snarled at entrances to a New Orleans Costco, where dozens of cars were backed up at the gas pumps and shoppers wheeled out carts stacked with cases of bottled water and other essentials.
Retired police officer Wondell Smith, who worked on the police force 16 years ago when Katrina hit, said he and his family were planning to stay, but were also getting ready to head farther inland if the forecasts worsened. He loaded water, bread and sandwich meat into his SUV.
“I know what that looks like,” Smith said, referring to the potential devastation. “This is my first time being home in 34 years of service,” he added. “And I want to be prepared.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s preseason football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome was moved up seven hours to avoid the weather, to a noon Central Time start.
Capt. Ross Eichorn, who operates a fishing guide service on the coast about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, said he fears warm Gulf waters will “make a monster” out of Ida.
“With a direct hit, ain’t no telling what’s going to be left – if anything,” Eichorn said. He added: “Anybody that isn’t concerned has got something wrong with them.”
When the system reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday, the Hurricane Center predicts it will be “at or near major hurricane intensity.”
The Hurricane Center defines “major hurricanes” as Category 3 or higher. Category 3 storms have winds of 111-129 mph and “devastating damage will occur” with storms of that strength.
Dangerous storm surge was also possible along the Gulf Coast. If it pushes a storm surge at high tide, Ida could overlap some levees, with 7 to 11 feet of water predicted from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
“There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, especially along the coast of Louisiana,” the hurricane center said.
Ida is also expected to produce heavy rains across the central Gulf Coast from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi, Alabama, as well as the Lower Mississippi Valley starting Sunday into Monday, resulting in considerable flash, urban, small stream, and river flooding.
As of 2 p.m. EDT Friday, the storm had made landfall on Cuba’s Isle of Youth, a small island about 30 miles south of Cuba’s mainland. Ida was located about 145 miles east-of the western tip of Cuba and was moving northwest at about 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings remained in place for western Cuba.
After its impact with Cuba, the storm is projected to slice across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where rapid intensification is possible, as has been the case with several notorious storms in recent years such as Hurricane Michael in 2018, which struck the Florida Panhandle, and Hurricane Laura in 2020, which slammed southwestern Louisiana, AccuWeather said.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Houma Today