Hurricane Laura is moving across southwest Louisiana as a Category 2 storm, with the National Hurricane Center warning of “life-threatening” storm surge and widespread damage from heavy rain and winds.
Laura’s eye made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, at 1 a.m. local time on Thursday as a Category 4 storm.
The latest National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory, issued at 7 a.m., showed that wind speeds had reduced to 100 mph, meaning it is now a Category 2 storm.
Some people in Louisiana who did not evacuate are stranded. Flooding and damage to power lines and other infrastructure means rescuers may struggle to reach them.
It is unclear how many people are now stuck and calling for help, but Tony Guillory, the president of Calcasieu Parish’s police jury, told The Associated Press that “People are calling the building but there ain’t no way to get to them.”
The 7 a.m. warning downgraded some of the NHC’s early language language. The storm surge was described as “life-threatening” rather than “unsurvivable”, and the winds were called “damaging” instead of “extreme.”
Nonetheless, forecasters predict destruction across the US Gulf Coast, with deadly storm surge forecast to bring waters as high as 20 feet in some areas.
And before reaching the US, the storm killed at least 20 people in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, the Associated Press reported.
The latest advisory warned that “Hurricane-force winds and damaging wind gusts are also expected to spread well inland into portions of eastern Texas and western Louisiana this morning.”
Hurricane Laura as seen from the International Space Station on Wednesday.
It warned of “life-threatening storm surge” between High Island Texas to the Mouth of the Mississippi River.
And it said that “This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm.”
The flooding could reach 20 feet in the area between Johnson Bayou and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, and up to 15 feet in the area between the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and Intracoastal City, according to the advisory.
A map from the National Hurricane Center predicting the storm surge along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Laura. The graphic was issued with its 1 a.m. advisory on Thursday.
National Hurricane Center.
The 7 a.m. update said Laura was moving north at a speed of about 15 mph, and was expected to continue at that pace.
The meteorologist Jordan Steele shared a video from a hotel in Lake Charles showing high winds:
The storm is due to pass over Louisiana and into Arkansas by the end of the day, the forecast said.
It’s then expected to move over the mid-Mississippi Valley on Friday and over the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
A National Hurricane Center map showing the predicted track of Hurricane Laura as of 1 a.m. on Thursday.
National Hurricane Center
The advisory also warned of flash flooding and urban flooding and said small steams could overflow their banks because of heavy rainfall.
Up to 18 inches of rain could fall in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, the advisory said.
There’s also a risk of tornadoes today and tonight across Louisiana, Arkansas, and western Mississippi.
A truck seen parked in an open lot as heavy rain from Hurricane Laura fell in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Wednesday.
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
The governors of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida all declared states of emergency.
The below video loop, taken by satellite, showed the hurricane Wednesday as it neared the coast.
The eye of Hurricane Laura.
Laura comes almost exactly 15 years after Hurricane Katrina — Saturday marks the anniversary of that storm.
A sign with the words “First Virus Now This” seen Wednesday on a boarded-up inn in Galveston, Texas, as residents prepared for Hurricane Laura.
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
Hundreds of thousands in storm’s path
More than half a million people along the Gulf Coast were ordered to evacuate. In Texas, the orders affect more than 385,000 residents, the Associated Press reported, while an additional 200,000 people in Louisiana’s Calcasieu parishes were told to leave as well.
Tiara Walker holding her dog, Buece, as she waited with her family to board a bus to evacuate on Tuesday in Galveston.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
The pandemic complicates evacuations, so Texas officials asked people to hunker down with relatives or in hotel rooms to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Buses will carry disinfectant and personal protective equipment and transport fewer passengers than normal, the AP reported, so people can maintain social distance.
Over the weekend, Laura battered Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as a tropical storm.
More than 1 million people lost power in the Dominican Republic, according to The Weather Channel. In Puerto Rico, the storm left 200,000 people without power and more than 10,000 without water, the AP reported.
Neighbors helping Lafaille Katia, left, pick up a mattress at her flooded house the day after the passing of Tropical Storm Laura in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday.
This Atlantic hurricane season has produced storms faster than ever
So far this year, the Atlantic Ocean has produced a record 13 named storms in just three months. The 11th named storm doesn’t normally form until November 23, but this year Tropical Storm Kyle appeared on August 14. The National Hurricane Center doesn’t even offer an average date for the 12th or 13th named storms (that’s Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco this year), since there are rarely that many in one season.
Overall for 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an “extremely active” hurricane season, with 19 to 25 named storms — the first time in NOAA’s history the number would be that high. The forecast includes seven to 11 hurricanes, with three to six reaching Category 3 or higher, which is considered “major.”
The astronaut Nick Hague, aboard the International Space Station, posted this photograph of Hurricane Dorian to Twitter on September 2, 2019.
“This is one of the most active seasonal forecasts that NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a press release. “We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant, and being ready to take action when necessary.”
An average season sees roughly six hurricanes, with three becoming major. But the Atlantic Ocean has been producing highly active hurricane seasons since 1995, according to NOAA.
Climate change is making hurricanes stronger, slower, and wetter
Aliana Alexis of Haiti on the concrete slab of what was left of her home after Hurricane Dorian, at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas, on September 5, 2019.
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Storms are getting stronger on average because climate change is causing ocean and air temperatures to climb — 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, and it closed the hottest decade ever recorded.
Hurricanes feed on warm water, and higher water temperatures also lead to sea-level rise, which increases the risk of flooding. Warmer air, meanwhile, holds more atmospheric water vapor, which helps tropical storms strengthen and unleash more precipitation.
Overall, the chances of any tropical cyclone becoming a major hurricane are increasing, according to a recent study based on satellite data. The findings showed that each new decade over the past 40 years had brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm would turn into a major hurricane.
“We have a significantly building body of evidence that these storms have already changed in very substantial ways, and all of them are dangerous,” James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post.
Houses in floodwater from Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, North Carolina, on September 17, 2018.
A 2013 study also found that for each degree the planet warmed over the previous 40 years, the proportion of Category 4 and 5 storms — the strongest hurricanes — increased by 25% to 30%.
“Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes,” Kossin told CNN. “Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk.”
Storms are also getting more sluggish: Over the past 70 years or so, hurricanes and tropical storms have slowed about 10% on average, a 2018 study found. That gives a hurricane more time to do damage in a given area.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.