Ida strengthens to a hurricane just before making landfall in Cuba, poses threat to New Orleans

Ida hurricane

Tropical Storm Ida strengthened into a hurricane on Friday as it swept toward Cuba and is expected to reach the Gulf Coast of the United States over the weekend, the National Hurricane Center said.

As of 11 a.m. Eastern time, the storm was moving away from the Cayman Islands but growing stronger on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Hours later, the hurricane had made landfall on the Isle of Youth, with sustained wind speeds reaching 75 miles per hour, the center said in an advisory.

Ida, which on Thursday became the ninth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, had churned toward the Isle of Youth, south of Cuba, early on Friday, prompting a hurricane warning for that island as well as for western Cuba, including the provinces of Artemisa and Pinar Del Rio. At 2 p.m., the hurricane center said that Ida was five miles from the center of the Isle of Youth and about 145 miles from the western tip of Cuba.

The storm is expected to reach the main island of Cuba on Friday on its way toward the United States. Tropical storm conditions were affecting Cayo Largo, an island off Cuba’s southern coast, the hurricane center said.

Forecasters warned that the storm could cause life-threatening flash flooding, mudslides and rip currents. Jamaica had been expected to receive six to 10 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 15 inches, while the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba could receive eight to 12 inches of rain, with isolated totals of up 20 inches, the center said.
Map: Tracking Hurricane Ida’s Path

A map showing the storm’s route as it moves toward the Gulf Coast.

A tropical storm warning was lifted for the Cayman Islands, the hurricane center said.

The eye of the storm could reach Louisiana by Sunday as a hurricane, with maximum winds of 110 m.p.h. and gusts of up to 130 m.p.h., according to the center’s tracking model. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said in a statement on Friday that the next 24 hours were “critical” for the state.

“The time for the people of Louisiana to prepare for this strong storm is now, as portions of our state will begin seeing impacts of this storm early Sunday morning, or even late Saturday evening,” he said.

The governor had declared a state of emergency on Thursday night, saying on Twitter the people of Louisiana “should be prepared to take the brunt of the severe weather.”
Hurricane Ida moving across Cuba and toward the Gulf of Mexico on Friday.Credit…NOAA

Along the Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch was issued from Cameron, La., to the border of Mississippi and Alabama. The metropolitan New Orleans area was also under a hurricane watch, in addition to Lake Pontchartrain. At least one community in southern Mississippi will be under a mandatory evacuation order by Friday morning.

Ida is expected to bring up to 16 inches of rain with isolated totals of up to 20 inches from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama through Monday morning.

It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who monitored three named storms that formed in quick succession in the Atlantic, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to different parts of the United States and the Caribbean. First came Tropical Storm Fred, which made landfall on Aug. 16 in the Florida Panhandle. As Fred moved across the Southeast, it brought heavy rains and touched off several tornadoes. At least five people were killed after flash floods wiped out homes in Western North Carolina in the wake of the storm.

Grace formed in the eastern Caribbean on Aug. 14, the same day a 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti’s western peninsula. The storm quickly moved west as the country struggled to free people trapped in rubble, dumping at least 10 inches of rain. Grace then made another landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula, bringing more heavy rain, power failures and hundreds of evacuations. Another landfall, on the eastern coast of Mexico’s mainland, left at least eight people dead.
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And Henri formed on Aug. 16 as a tropical storm off the East Coast of the United States. It strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane but was downgraded before making landfall in Rhode Island, sparing the region the worst of what had been predicted. It thrashed the Northeast with fierce winds and torrential rain, knocking out power to more than 140,000 households from New Jersey to Maine. Some communities in Connecticut were evacuated and rainfall records in New York City were shattered.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

A major United Nations climate report released in August warned that nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, leading to more frequent life-threatening heat waves and severe droughts. Tropical cyclones have likely become more intense over the past 40 years, the report said, a shift that cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.

In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. In early August, in a midseason update to the forecast, they continued to warn that this year’s hurricane season will be an above average one, suggesting a busy end to the season.

Matthew Rosencrans, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that an updated forecast suggested that there would be 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30. Ida is the ninth named storm of 2021.

Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.