Hurricane Laura has rapidly intensified into a Category 3 over the Gulf of Mexico as it heads for a destructive landfall on the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts by early Thursday morning. A potentially catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds will batter the region and a threat of flooding rain and strong winds will extend well inland.
Residents along the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts should finish preparations now for a major hurricane strike. Follow any evacuation orders issued by local or state officials.
Laura is centered just over 250 miles south-southeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana. It’s tracking to the northwest at 15 mph.
A wind gust to 107 mph was reported at a buoy near the center of Laura early Wednesday morning.
The hurricane is now a Category 3 with 115 mph winds and is expected to continue strengthening. Laura could briefly become a Category 4 hurricane later today.
Laura’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 70 mph to 115 mph in the 24 hours ending 7 a.m. CDT Wednesday. That increase in maximum sustained winds easily meets the definition of rapid intensification in a hurricane.
A storm surge warning is in effect from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River in southeast Louisiana, including Galveston Bay and areas inside the Port Arthur, Texas, hurricane flood protection system.
This means a life-threatening storm surge is expected in the next 36 hours. Residents in these areas should heed all evacuation orders and instructions from local emergency management and take necessary precautions to protect life and property.
A hurricane warning is now in effect from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. This includes Galveston, parts of the east Houston metro area, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and several additional inland counties and parishes of east Texas and western Louisiana extending north of Interstate 10. Hurricane conditions (winds 74 mph or greater) will affect these areas Wednesday night and Thursday.
Tropical storm warnings extend into the rest of the Houston metro area, parts of northeast Texas, northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas.
Track and Intensity
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast shows Laura will curl more to the northward on Wednesday and Thursday.
Laura is predicted to be a major hurricane – Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale – when it makes landfall along the southwest Louisiana or upper Texas coasts early Thursday morning. Conditions are expected to deteriorate in these areas later Wednesday.
The track forecast has become more certain in the past 24 hours. Landfall is expected to occur near the border between Louisiana and Texas.
It appears much of the Houston metro area will avoid a worst-case scenario since Laura is expected to track east of the city. However, parts of the metro area will still rain and strong winds from Laura.
The bottom line is that Laura will bring destructive storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging wind impacts to parts of Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts beginning later Wednesday. The worst conditions will be Wednesday night and Thursday.
Keep in mind that a hurricane isn’t just a point. Impacts will extend far from where the center eventually moves inland.
(MORE: Why the Projected Path For Hurricanes and Tropical Storms Doesn’t Always Tell the Full Story)
Storm Surge Threat
The highest potential surge is expected along and to the immediate east of the center of Laura as it moves ashore Wednesday night or early Thursday.
According to the National Hurricane Center, that could lead to inundation of 10 to 15 feet above ground level from near the Texas and Louisiana border, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Sabine Lake and Calcasieu Lake, if it occurs at high tide.
The National Hurricane Center said storm surge could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the coast in southwest Louisiana and far southeast Texas.
A river gauge on the Calcasieu River at Saltwater Barrier located near Lake Charles, Louisiana, is forecast to hit 11 feet, or well over major flood stage, because of the storm surge early Thursday morning.
“These water levels are near those reached during the storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Major flooding can be expected in Westlake and Lake Charles with numerous homes inundated,” the National Weather Service says.
See the map below for other storm surge peak inundation forecasts from the NHC.
Follow the advice of local and state officials if you are ordered to evacuate an area prone to storm surge flooding.
Tropical storm conditions are expected in the hurricane warning area by late Wednesday, with hurricane conditions expected Wednesday night and Thursday.
The potential for tree damage and power outages will affect areas farther inland along the path of Laura across eastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and western Tennessee.
Heavy Rain Threat
Laura will also spread rain and wind impacts far inland through parts of the lower Mississippi Valley and Ohio Valley into Saturday.
According to NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center, parts of western Louisiana, eastern Texas and much of Arkansas could pick up 5 to 10 inches, with isolated amounts up to 15 inches.
Locally heavy rain is also possible from the lower and mid-Mississippi valleys into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys late Friday into Saturday. These areas could see as much as 2 to 4 inches of rainfall.
This could lead to widespread flash flooding, especially in urban areas, and minor to moderate river flooding that could linger for some time after Laura leaves.
Landfalling hurricanes sometimes produce tornadoes to the east of where the storm’s center tracks.
The area with the greatest chance of seeing a few tornadoes from Laura on Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night is from southeastern Texas into southwest Mississippi.
Tropical Depression Thirteen formed in the Atlantic last Wednesday night (Aug. 19) and strengthened into Tropical Storm Laura on Friday morning (Aug. 20.)
Laura is the earliest Atlantic ‘L’ named storm on record. The previous record was Luis on Aug. 29, 1995, according to Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University.
Southern parts of Puerto Rico picked up 2 to 6 inches of rainfall.