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Tropical Depression Laura Moving Through the Mid-South With Gusty Winds, Flooding After Category 4 Landfall

Published in 28 August, 2020

Laura made landfall early Thursday morning and will spread threats of strong winds, flooding rain and tornadoes from the South and mid-Mississippi Valley into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys.

Current Status & Forecast
Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, at 1 a.m. CDT as a strong Category 4 with 150 mph winds, southwest Louisiana’s first Category 4 landfalling hurricane on record, according to NOAA’s historical database.

For a complete rundown on the notable storm surge, wind and flooding reports, scroll down to our recap section.

Laura is now tracking through the mid-South as a slowly weakening system and has lost tropical characteristics.

It will turn more eastward into Saturday before pushing off the East Coast.

Laura may regain some life this weekend as it accelerates off of Cape Cod and southeastern Canada.

Laura will spread heavy rain far inland through parts of the lower and middle Mississippi valleys, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley and the mid-Atlantic into Saturday.

Here’s a look at what rainfall totals can be expected along the path of Laura, according to NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center.

-Parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky: Additional 1 to 3 inches, with isolated totals of up to 5 inches. Flash flooding and river flooding are possible in these areas.

-Portions of the central and southern Appalachians, Mid-Atlantic states on Saturday: 1 to 2 inches, with isolated amounts of up to 3 inches. Local flash flooding is possible in these areas, particularly in hilly terrain or urban areas.

Some isolated severe thunderstorms in Laura’s outer rainbands are possible, some of which could spin up brief tornadoes parts of the mid-South and Tennessee Valley through Friday.

U.S. Recap
Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph when it made landfall at 1 a.m. CDT on Thursday near Cameron, Louisiana.

It was southwest Louisiana’s first Category 4 hurricane landfall on record, dating to 1851, according to Steve Bowen, meteorologist with Aon. It also tied the Last Island 1856 hurricane for strongest (by estimated wind speed) to landfall in Louisiana, according to Colorado State University tropical scientist Phil Klotzbach.

Its central pressure at landfall was similar to Hurricane Rita in 2005, though Laura’s winds were stronger.

The landfall was the culmination of a remarkable period of intensification after moving off the coast of western Cuba.

High Winds

Laura produced the following wind gusts in Louisiana and southeast Texas Thursday morning:

-Lake Charles, Louisiana: 133 mph

-Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana: 127 mph

-Cameron, Louisiana: 116 mph

-Sabine Pass, Texas: 89 mph

-Alexandria, Louisiana: 86 mph (video from Mike Seidel)

The winds knocked out power to more than 800,000 homes and businesses in southeast Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, according to poweroutage.us.

Extensive wind damage was reported in Lake Charles, Louisiana, including numerous shattered windows in downtown skyscrapers, a communication tower collapsed, power poles toppled and roofs shredded.

The extreme winds even destroyed the National Weather Service Doppler radar in Lake Charles, in similar fashion as what happened to another NWS Doppler radar in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Trees and power lines were reported down “all over the city” in Shreveport, Louisiana, according to local law enforcement. Multiple downed trees and power lines also blocked roads throughout Caldwell Parish, Louisiana.

Other reports of wind damage have come in from Monroe, Lafayette, Starks and Vinton, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi. A church was damaged in Orange, Texas, near the Louisiana border.

Storm Surge

Storm surge inundation of just over 9 feet was measured at the coast near Cameron, Louisiana, around the time of Laura’s landfall.

The worst of the storm surge, according to satellite imagery, appeared to have been just east of Cameron, though no weather instruments were available to measure it. A future damage survey may uncover high water marks to measure the peak surge, however, given the area’s low population, it may be difficult to find such high water marks, as was the case during Hurricane Rita in 2005.

While producing destructive winds in the hurricane’s eyewall, Laura’s center may have tracked just far enough east to spare the Lake Charles metro area a much worse fate than feared from surge flooding.

West to southwest winds to the south of Laura’s center did pile water from Lake Charles into parts of downtown Lake Charles several hours after landfall early Thursday morning, in areas that were previously dry, according to storm chaser Chris Jackson. A peak storm surge of around 4.65 feet was measured by a gauge along Lake Charles downtown.

Storm surge of 3 to 5 feet was also measured around Vermilion Bay, along the south-central Louisiana coast. Some water pushed up the Vermilion River into parts of Lafayette, Louisiana, early Thursday. Feet of water was noted by local media in Delcambre, about halfway between Lafayette and Vermilion Bay, Thursday morning.

Storm surge of about 2.4 feet was recorded in Port Arthur, Texas, and about 4 feet at Galveston.

Rainfall Flooding

Widespread flooding was reported across much of Natchitoches Parish, between Shreveport and Alexandria, Louisiana, Thursday morning. University underpass in Lafayette was impassable due to rising water.

Laura’s History
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.

Laura brought heavy rainfall and gusty winds to the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico later Friday through Saturday.

Southern parts of Puerto Rico picked up 2 to 6 inches of rainfall.

Winds gusted up to 75 mph at Salinas, along Puerto Rico’s southern coast.

Portions of the Dominican Republic picked up nearly a foot of rain from Laura over the weekend, which triggered serious flash flooding in some areas.

Sustained winds of 60 mph with a gust over 70 mph was measured in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Sunday evening.

Laura made landfall on the Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba around 8:00 p.m. Monday with maximum sustained winds of about 65 mph.

A wind gust of 69 mph was measured in Key West, Florida, Monday afternoon as a line of showers associated with Laura moved through.

Laura became the fourth hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday morning, based on measurements taken by NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft.

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