Interstate highways across southern Louisiana were packed Saturday morning as many residents fled ahead of Hurricane Ida, which is expected to rapidly intensify over the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in the state as a Category 4 hurricane on Sunday.
Ida had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph late Saturday morning, but forecasters said conditions favor the storm going through a rapid intensification phase later in the day.
The hurricane is expected to become a Category 4 storm within 24 hours, and make landfall along the Louisiana coastline late Sunday with sustained winds of at least 130 mph.
Perhaps an even bigger threat than the winds will be the storm surge, with waters expected to rise up to 15 feet above normal tide levels across much of coastal southeastern Louisiana, which the National Hurricane Center described as an “extremely life-threatening inundation.”
That amount of water could be enough to overtop some local levees across low-lying south Louisiana, but the massive levee system protecting New Orleans and its inner suburbs is expected to hold.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said Friday there was no longer enough time to order a citywide mandatory evacuation despite concerns of serious impacts, so she instead ordered a voluntary evacuation order that includes almost all of the city’s residents.
Mandatory evacuations had already been issued for parts of New Orleans outside of levee protection, and are also in effect for numerous low-lying communities to the south of New Orleans, where local governments have asked more than 250,000 people to leave.
“Actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion today in the warning area,” the National Hurricane Center said. A hurricane warning is in effect from Intracoastal City in central Louisiana to the Louisiana-Mississippi border, and includes metropolitan New Orleans.
What To Watch For
The New Orleans National Weather Service office issued a dire message Saturday morning, warning of “devastating to catastrophic” impacts that could leave areas “uninhabitable for weeks or months.” Even sturdy buildings in the direct path of the hurricane could suffer complete roof and wall failure, forecasters warned, with damage “greatly accentuated by large airborne projectiles.” Power and communications outages are expected to be widespread across south Louisiana.
Ida first became a tropical storm in the western Caribbean Sea on Thursday before strengthening into a hurricane on Friday right before it moved across Cuba. Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are ripe for explosive intensification, with very warm water temperatures, low wind shear and no dry air. Additionally, the storm is forecast to move directly over an area of high oceanic heat content, which is a region where warm water temperatures extend much deeper than just the surface. Many of the most powerful storms in history, like Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rapidly intensified after moving over pockets of high oceanic heat content.
A Sunday landfall would come 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005.