Less than 12 hours after forming, Hurricane Ida passed through the Cayman Islands at tropical storm strength. By the time it made landfall in Cuba later on Friday, it had become a Category 1 hurricane.
Now the storm is in the Gulf of Mexico, with Louisiana in its sights.
Ida could strike the state as a Category 4 hurricane — with maximum sustained winds of nearly 140 miles per hour — on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana was also battered by several storms last year, including Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
On Friday night, there was a hurricane warning by the National Hurricane Center in effect from Intracoastal City, La., to the mouth of the Pearl River, a region that includes New Orleans. There was a hurricane watch for the entire Mississippi coast, as well as west of Intracoastal City to Cameron, La.
“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Louisiana,” the center said, adding, “Actions to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in the warning area.”
Ida had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour after leaving Cuba. The crucial question, for residents and emergency authorities along the Gulf Coast, is how much stronger it will become before making landfall in the United States.
The hurricane center said the storm could grow much stronger very rapidly, becoming a major hurricane — defined as Category 3 or higher, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 m.p.h. — in the 24 hours before landfall.
Research over the past decade has found that, on average, such rapid intensification of hurricanes is increasing, in part because the oceans, which provide the energy for hurricanes, are getting warmer as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.
The hurricane center defines rapid intensification as at least a 35-m.p.h. increase in sustained winds over 24 hours. In the extremely active 2020 season, Hurricane Laura intensified by 45 m.p.h. in the 24 hours before making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in late August.
The National Hurricane Center said Ida was likely to produce heavy rainfall late Sunday into Monday from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama. After moving inland, the storm could contribute to flooding in Tennessee, where flash flooding killed 20 people last weekend.
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the location of Tropical Storm Ida. It was in the Caribbean Sea early Friday, not the Gulf of Mexico.
As Hurricane Ida headed toward the Gulf Coast, there were signs that it could rival Hurricane Laura in strength, officials said, stirring painful reminders of the devastation Laura delivered last year and the ways many residents continue to live with its consequences.
Laura hit Lake Charles, La., a city of about 76,000 people, on Aug. 27, 2020, and the one-year anniversary on Friday was an agonizing marker of how long many people were forced to live in hotels, camper trailers or homes that were barely inhabitable because of the storm’s toll. Elected officials also noted the lack of federal support that they believe the city still needs.
“Thank you for being tougher than you should need to be,” Nic Hunter, the mayor, said in a post on his Facebook page.
Laura was just the first of a series of weather crises to hit Lake Charles and the southwestern corner of Louisiana over the past year. Hurricane Delta cut a similar path through the state roughly six weeks later. That was followed by a winter storm that swept over the region, causing pipes to burst in homes and knocking out water systems. Then, heavy rainfall unleashed flooding in May.
In the city on Friday, residents were stocking up on supplies and carefully watching the forecast, waiting to see whether Ida would veer in their direction. Some gas stations had even sold out of fuel.
“We’re just kind of taking a close look here at the weather,” said George Swift, the president and chief executive of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “I’ve noticed folks all over town gearing up.”
As tough as another storm would be, he added, it is part of reality of life on the Gulf Coast. “It’s just something you have to deal with,” Mr. Swift said.
Hurricane Ida was expected to “rapidly intensify” on Saturday on its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast as people there prepared for it to make landfall as a life-threatening Category 4 storm on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, forecasters said.
As of 8 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, the storm had moved away from Cuba and was on its way toward the southeastern Gulf of Mexico with sustained wind speeds reaching 85 miles per hour, the center said in an advisory.
The center of the storm could reach Louisiana late Sunday or early Monday 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.
Ida was expected to then turn northward and slow down as it churned through Louisiana and western Mississippi, forecasters said.
“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the coast of Louisiana,” the center said on Twitter on Friday afternoon, adding that parts of Louisiana could expect floods and “potentially catastrophic” hurricane-force winds on Sunday.
Parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts should be prepared for life-threatening storm surges of up to 15 feet on Sunday, the center said. Louisiana could expect tropical storm-force winds as early as Saturday night, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said on Twitter.
Gov. John Bel Edwards urged the people of Louisiana to use Saturday to prepare for the storm. He declared a state of emergency on Friday ahead of Ida’s arrival.
“Take it seriously,” he said on Friday night. “This is going to be a very serious storm.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans on Friday ordered all residents outside the city’s levee system to evacuate by Saturday morning. The areas under the evacuation order included the city’s Lake Catherine, Venetian Isles and Irish Bayou areas, the mayor said on Twitter.
Along the Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch was issued from Cameron, La., to the border of Mississippi and Alabama.
A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil said on Friday afternoon that the company was evacuating its employees from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico in preparation for the storm.
Sunday is the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in the state. That storm unleashed catastrophic floods and blistering winds, producing one of country’s costliest disasters ever.
Forecasters warned that Ida could cause life-threatening flash flooding, mudslides and rip currents. 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.
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.
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, bringing 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. A third 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 that 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 surges — 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 probably 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 would 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.
It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Neil Vigdor, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Christine Hauser and Alyssa Lukpat contributed reporting.
In Louisiana, where daily deaths from Covid reached their highest levels this week, stretched hospitals are having to modify the intense preparations they would normally make ahead of an expected strike from Hurricane Ida.
Louisiana’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, asked residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to preserve the state’s hospital capacity, which has been vastly diminished by its most severe Covid surge of the pandemic.
And while plans exist to transfer patients away from coastal areas to inland hospitals ahead of a hurricane, this time “evacuations are just not possible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference.
“The hospitals don’t have room,” he said. “We don’t have any place to bring those patients — not in state, not out of state.”
The governor said officials had asked hospitals to check generators and stockpile more water, oxygen and personal protective supplies than usual for a storm. The implications of a strike from a Category 4 hurricane while hospitals were full were “beyond what our normal plans are,” he added.
Mr. Edwards said he had told President Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to expect Covid-related emergency requests, including oxygen.
The state’s recent wave of Covid hospitalizations has exceeded its previous three peaks, and staffing shortages have necessitated support from federal and military medical teams. On Friday, 2,684 Covid patients were hospitalized in the state. This week Louisiana reported its highest ever single-day death toll from Covid — 139 people.
Oschner Health, one of the largest local medical systems, informed the state that it had limited capacity to accept storm-related transfers, especially from nursing homes, the group’s chief executive, Warner L. Thomas, said. Many of Oschner’s hospitals, which were caring for 836 Covid patients on Friday, had invested in backup power and water systems to reduce the need to evacuate, he said.
The pandemic also complicated efforts to discharge more patients than usual before the storm hits. For many Covid patients who require oxygen, “going home isn’t really an option,” said Stephanie Manson, chief operating officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which had 190 Covid inpatients on Friday, 79 of them in intensive care units.
The governor said he feared that the movement of tens or hundreds of thousands of evacuees in the state could cause it to lose gains made in recent days as the number of new coronavirus cases began to drop. Dr. Kanter urged residents who were on the move to wear masks and observe social distancing. Many of the state’s testing and vaccination sites were slated to close temporarily.