huntsville, alabama, city

Serious hurricane troubles coming together for the Gulf Coast in the days ahead

The situation on the Gulf Coast is growing more ominous. 

Every indicator we have suggests a major hurricane is under development in the Gulf with track projections shifting westward with each passing forecast cycle. 

This takes Hurricane Laura’s landfall ever closer to the Houston/Galveston area, which is home to over 7 million – as well as a wide swath of the Texas /Louisiana coast. A devastating Category 3 intensity is predicted at landfall, with winds up to 130 mph and a storm surge of up to 13 feet in the hardest-hit locations.

The NWS HWRF tropical model’s snapshot of predicted wind speeds at 7pm CDT Wed evening. Peak winds predicted by this model at that time are pegged at 128 mph. The model generates winds as strong as 130 mph. A preceding run predicted top wind speeds of 135 mph.

University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy warns of possible “rapid intensification” of Laura before landfall. All the ingredients known to foster hurricane intensification are in place: warm ocean waters, high ocean heat content and low vertical wind shear. 

Also concerning is the fact successive model track forecasts have carried the storm onshore. There’s been a slow drift in the consensus model track farther to the west, placing it ever closer to the Houston/Galveston area.

The most favored track at the moment–and the “official National Hurricane Center track” takes Laura onshore late Wednesday somewhere near the Texas/Louisiana border. 

When the entire constellation of model forecasts is examined, the truth is landfall may occur anywhere from Galveston in Texas to Morgan City on the south-central Louisiana coast. 

Storm surges as high as 13 feet mean the ocean level could rise as much as 13 feet at the points on the coast hit hardest by powerhouse Hurricane Laura, making the threat this storm poses to coastal residents huge and quite scary.

We’re awaiting the new European Centre’s morning model and ensemble model runs. The most recent overnight runs had Laura on a path farther west than a number of other model clusters

These models–each and every one of them—are marvels of modern science. Modeling has revolutionized the prediction of weather over the past half century.

The European model’s forecast tropical cyclone tracks led the model pack in accuracy in the 2019 season, but didn’t beat the National Hurricane Center’s official tracks. NHC’s forecasts verified best overall. 

Tropical forecasters ALWAYS CAUTION that we NOT focus on specific landfall locations this far ahead in time but, instead, advise all within the full “cone of track uncertainty” take the storm seriously since the effects of hurricanes extend far beyond the middle of any track forecast cone. That’s definitely the case once again with Hurricane Laura.

As always, Colorado State hurricane researcher Dr. Phil Klotbach offers key points which put Laura in perspective. Here are some:

  • “Laura is the 3rd hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico this season, along with Hanna and Marco. Only 4 other times on record (since 1851) has the Gulf of Mexico had 3+ hurricanes form/track through it by August 25: 1851, 1886, 1936 and 2005.”
  • “Laura is also the 4th of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to date.  This is the first time that the Atlantic has had 4+ hurricanes by August 25 since 2005.”
  • The most named storms to make landfall in the continental US (CONUS) by the end of August on record is 6 (set in 1886 and 1916).  The CONUS has already had 6 landfalls in 2020: Bertha, Cristobal, Fay, Hanna, Isaias and Marco.  Hurricane Laura poised to make landfall in under 2 days.

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