Hurricane Laura is the 12th named storm of 2020 and is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane by Wednesday night when it makes landfall on the coast of Texas or Louisiana, according to The Associated Press.
The storm was upgraded to hurricane status Tuesday morning when winds got up to 75 mph as it moved northwest over the Gulf of Mexico after battering the Caribbean as a tropical storm.
By Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported winds were up to 110 mph.
Here is what you need to know:
1. Tropical Storm Laura Caused More Than 20 Deaths in Haiti & The Dominican Republic
— GasMuha Empowerment Project Onlus (@gasmuha) August 24, 2020
The Weather Channel reported that nine people in Haiti and another four in the Dominican Republic died from injuries related to Tropical Storm Laura. The storm caused landslides and cut off access to isolated islands over the weekend. More than one million customers lost electricity. By Monday, The Miami Herald said at least 20 people had died in Haiti due to the storm and five people were still missing.
Among the dead are a 7-year-old and his mother whose home collapsed; a 10-year-old and a 22-year-old died in two different incidents of a tree falling on their house, and a police officer crashed his motorcycle and died in an accident attributed to the massive rainfall, according to The Weather Channel.
Tropical Storm Laura moved over Cuba next but didn’t cause as much destruction as it did to the neighboring islands. According to the Miami Herald, no deaths were reported.
2. Hurricane Laura Is Expected to Cause Catostrauphic Damage
Hurricane #Laura Advisory 26: Laura Expected to Rapidly Strengthen to a Category 4 Hurricane. Forecast to Produce a Life-Threatening Storm Surge, Extreme Winds, and Flash Flooding Over Eastern Texas and Louisiana Later Today. https://t.co/VqHn0u1vgc
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 26, 2020
While the Miami Herald reported winds of up to 65mph when Laura was over Cuba, hurricanes gain speed when they are over warm water. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average temperature in the middle of the Gulf where the hurricane is traveling is about 84 degrees.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Laura was still only at a Category 1, meaning it had sustained winds between 74 and 95 mph, but by Wednesday morning the National Hurricane Center reported that the hurricane was rapidly gaining strength. Wind speeds are expected to increase to Category 4 levels by the time it gets to land, which means sustained winds will be at 130-156 mph.
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
3. The Affected Areas Are Expected to Start Seeing Storm Surge & Tropical Storm Conditions Ahead of the Hurricane Wednesday
#Laura is expected to bring multiple life-threatening hazards to the Gulf Coast beginning later today. Efforts to protect life and property within the Storm Surge and Hurricane Warning areas should be rushed to completion before storm surge and tropical storm force winds arrive. pic.twitter.com/QxXf55AiU0
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 26, 2020
According to the Hurricane Center, “Tropical Storm conditions are expected to reach the coast in the hurricane warning area late Wednesday or Wednesday night.”
Those winds will continue to increase as the hurricane continues its track toward the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
Several watches and warnings are in place as coastal residents brace for the coming hurricane. The National Hurricane Center reports as of 8 a.m on Aug. 26:
A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for San Luis Pass Texas to the Mouth of the Mississippi River.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for San Luis Pass Texas to Intracoastal City Louisiana.
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Sargent Texas to San Luis Pass East of Intracoastal City Louisiana to the Mouth of the Mississippi River.
A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for Freeport Texas to San Luis Pass, the Mouth of the Mississippi River to Ocean Springs Mississippi, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Borgne.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for East of Intracoastal City to west of Morgan City Louisiana.
4. Hurricane Laura Is Expected to Affect Several States in the US Over 4 Days
In addition to storm surge & wind threats, Hurricane #Laura is expected to produce a swath of heavy rainfall as it moves inland Wednesday night into Saturday. This rainfall will cause widespread flash & urban flooding and isolated moderate river flooding. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/RoRCMxorJb
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 25, 2020
According to the National Hurricane Center, it’s not just coastal communities that will see potentially dangerous weather.
“This will not just be a coastal event. Strong winds and heavy rainfall & flooding are likely to occur well inland along the storm’s path,” the agency wrote in a Tweet.
The path of the storm after it makes landfall somewhere on the Texas or Louisiana Coast shows the storm taking a hard Northeast path until it ends up back in the Atlantic Ocean.
States that may be affected are Texas, Louisianna, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
The Weather Channel reports that while the winds will slow down to 50 mph by Thursday night once the storm is over land, and 35mph by Friday morning, “extreme rainfall” is likely in non-coastal states as the storm makes its way back east.
The Hurricane Center forecasts:
From Wednesday night into Saturday, Laura is expected to produce rainfall of 4 to 8 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches across portions of the west-central U.S. Gulf Coast from western Louisiana into east Texas, and northward into portions of the lower to middle Mississippi Valley, lower Ohio Valley, and Tennessee Valley. This rainfall will cause widespread flash and urban flooding, small streams to overflow their banks, and minor to isolated moderate river flooding.
5. Evacuations & School Closures are Happening in Texas & Louisianna but Concerns About More COVID-19 Spread are Being Taken Into Account
The Weather Channel reported that more than 400,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Southwest Texas and 325,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Louisiana, where both states declared disasters.
Schools in some counties are closed for the rest of the week as well.
This is the first time a major hurricane has hit the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, (though Hurricane Hannah impacted Texas as a Category 1 in July), and juggling social distancing and mask-wearing in the middle of a natural disaster is sure to be a challenge — especially for those seeking shelters.
As for Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he isn’t going to open shelters if he can help it because the virus is so contagious and the rate of infection has been very high in that state and he doesn’t want to exacerbate that.
According to National Geographic, in lieu of opening shelters, “Those who live in Laura’s path are encouraged to find their own hotel room.”
Edwards said in a briefing, “I will tell you, congregate sheltering in COVID is really a last resort—we still have the 15th or so highest caseload growth in the country and about the same highest positivity as well,” NatGeo reported.
If they did have to turn to shelters, the state is looking at possibly putting families together in tents inside shelter spaces.
“But still, even when you take the maximum precautions, it’s not a safe situation, so you wouldn’t want to do it unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Edwards said.