Both storms are forecast to strengthen into hurricanes over the Gulf of Mexico in the coming days.
As rain from a weakening Tropical Storm Marco soaked portions of the Gulf Coast on Monday, forecasters feared Laura, which is close behind, could deliver a much more serious blow to the area.
Marco was likely to make landfall Monday evening in Louisiana as a weak tropical storm or tropical depression, forecasters said. Tropical Storm Laura is expected to reach hurricane status before it roars toward the Gulf Coast on Wednesday and Thursday.
Laura should be much more of a big deal than Marco, forecasters said.
For the residents of the Louisiana coast, “they’re certainly lucky that Marco is not worse than it is,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Monday. “This (Marco) will come and go, and they can get ready for Laura. That’ll be the main attraction.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott said Laura could make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, which have winds of at least 111 mph. It would be the first Category 3 hurricane to strike Louisiana since Hurricane Rita in 2005.
The National Hurricane Center said Monday that “there is an increasing risk of dangerous storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts from the upper Texas coast to the north-central Gulf Coast beginning Wednesday” from Laura.
Rain bands from both storms could bring a combined total of 2 feet of rain to parts of Louisiana, potentially raising the storm surge to more than 10 feet along the coastline and pushing water 30 miles up the rivers in a worst-case scenario, Schott said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told a news briefing Monday, “We’re only going to dodge the bullet so many times. And the current forecast for Laura has it focused intently on Louisiana.”
State emergencies were declared in Louisiana and Mississippi, and shelters were opened with cots set farther apart, among other measures designed to curb coronavirus infections.
August Creppel, chief of the United Houma Nation, was concerned about the group’s 17,000 members, spread out over six parishes along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
“We know our people are going to get hit,” he said. “We just don’t know who yet.”
Sarah Manowitz, responsible for four bars in New Orleans’ French Quarter, made sure windows were boarded up. She prepped her house and filled her tub with water. Manowitz is remaining on site, counting on a “community of people” who look out for each other during storms.
“We’re all going to help each other share food, share whatever supplies,” she said.
As of 2 p.m. EDT, the center of Marco was about 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph as it slid to the north-northwest at 8 mph. All the tropical storm warnings and storm surge warnings for the Gulf Coast were discontinued, according to the Hurricane Center.
Although the storm has weakened, “gusty winds, heavy rainfall and lingering coastal flooding are expected from Marco along portions of the Gulf Coast through this (Monday) evening,” the Hurricane Center said.
The system was downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday night. What’s left of the storm is expected to turn west and reach Texas as a tropical depression or remnant low-pressure area by late Tuesday.
Laura strengthened near eastern Cuba on Sunday night after killing at least 11 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm traveled west-northwest at 20 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, according to the Hurricane Center’s advisory at 2 p.m. EDT. Laura dumped heavy rain and caused flash flooding in portions of Cuba and the Cayman Islands, the Hurricane Center said.
A tropical storm warning was issued for portions of the Florida Keys as Laura approached. The Keys could see winds of 39 to 57 mph through early Tuesday.
Laura was forecast to sweep over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico late Monday into Tuesday.
“Laura will be moving over the very warm and deep waters of Gulf Stream and Loop Current located over the southeastern Gulf, which could trigger a brief period of rapid intensification,” the National Hurricane Center wrote in an update Monday morning.
That’s a recipe for damaging, hurricane-force winds of more than 110 mph as Laura approaches the U.S. coast, forecasters said.
Heavy rain will accompany the high winds from Laura: “From late Wednesday into Friday, Laura is expected to produce rainfall of 5 to 10 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches across portions of the west-central U.S. Gulf Coast near the Texas and Louisiana border north into portions of the lower Mississippi Valley,” the Hurricane Center wrote. “This rainfall could cause widespread flash and urban flooding, small streams to overflow their banks, and the possibility of some minor river flooding across this region.”
“Laura will expand in size on Tuesday and Wednesday, and will likely grow into a larger-than-average storm capable of generating a very large storm surge,” according to meteorologists Bob Henson and Jeff Masters, who write for Yale Climate Connections.
The Atlantic hurricane season has been a record-breaker. Laura is the earliest L-named storm in the Atlantic Basin, breaking a record held by Luis, which formed Aug. 29, 1995. This season has had 13 named storms, well above-normal activity.
2020 could set a record for most hurricane hits this early in the year, if Marco and Laura make landfall this week. The most Atlantic named storms on record to make landfall in the continental USA by the end of August is six, which occurred in 1886 and 1916, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach. The continental USA has had five this year: Bertha, Cristobal, Fay, Hanna and Isaias, he said.
Contributing: John Bacon, Rick Jervis, Jordan Culver and Jessica Flores, USA TODAY; Brian Broom, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.); Greg Hilburn, The (Monroe, Louisiana) News-Star; The Associated Press
The strengthening Tropical Storm Laura killed several people as it passed through Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
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