In New Orleans and beyond, evacuations are already underway.
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 140 miles per hour — Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana was also battered by several storms last year, including Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
On Saturday, 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.
Storm surge warnings were issued as well. The center said that, depending on the tides, the surge could be as high as 15 feet in Morgan City, La., and reach up to 7 feet in Lake Pontchartrain.
“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. But Ida will also strengthen quickly because the Gulf, as is usual at the end of the summer, is very warm.
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. Tropical storm force winds will arrive along the coast as early as Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service, before the storm makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening. After moving inland, the storm could contribute to flooding in Tennessee, where flash flooding killed 20 people last weekend.
“Based upon current track and strength of Ida, this storm will test our hurricane protection systems in a way they haven’t been tested before,” Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor of Louisiana for coastal activities, said on Twitter. “It’s times like these that remind us of the importance of continuing to protect south Louisiana.”
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.
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.
NEW ORLEANS — With Hurricane Ida likely to bring powerful winds and heavy rain to their city, residents of New Orleans faced a familiar choice: flee or hunker down for the duration.
The storm was expected to make landfall by late Sunday, and officials were already bracing for the worst.
It was not lost on anyone that Sunday will mark the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,833 people, inflicted more than $100 billion in damage, and put large swaths of the city of New Orleans under water.
The bad timing was just one more psychological burden to bear for New Orleans residents like Victor Pizarro, a health advocate. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Pizarro and his husband decided to ride out the storm in their home in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, although they said they would leave town if they lost power for an extended period.
“It’s definitely triggering to even have to think about this and make these decisions,” Mr. Pizarro said in a telephone interview while he drove across town in search of a spare part for his generator. “It’s exhausting to be a New Orleanian and a Louisianian at this point.”
Gov. Jon Bel Edwards of Louisiana declared a state of emergency on Thursday in anticipation of Ida’s arrival and noted that the storm’s rapid approach — it formed in the Caribbean on Thursday — meant that residents needed to act fast, particularly those in low-lying and vulnerable coastal areas.
“This type of threat contains additional problems because the window to prepare is so short,” he said. “By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm.”
The decision to stay or go was made for some area residents on Friday when New Orleans city officials issued mandatory evacuations for residents living outside the levee system, echoing similar mandates for neighboring parishes.
For voluntary evacuations, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Friday, “now is the time.”
By the time Ms. Cantrell spoke, Andy Horowitz and his family had already made the decision to vacate their home in the Algiers Point neighborhood, which sits directly across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. Mr. Horowitz is the author of the acclaimed book “Katrina: A History, 1915-2015,” and he is among those scholars and Louisiana residents who fear that the city’s new flood protection system, as massive as it is, may prove to be inadequate for a sinking city in the likely path of more frequent and powerful storms in the age of climate change.
“Every summer, New Orleans plays a game of Russian roulette, and every summer we pull the trigger,” Mr. Horowitz said.
In a state preparing for a serious beating, many were hoping Ida would at least do her worst quickly and then move on. “The faster it moves, the better it is for us because it doesn’t give the storm time to beat, beat, beat, beat, beat on a roof to where it comes apart,” said Scooter Resweber, the police chief on Grand Isle, a barrier island south of New Orleans.
Mr. Resweber said that all but a few hardened old-timers were planning to evacuate Grand Isle, a small community of shrimpers, oil industry workers and fish camps, by Saturday, when officials planned to close off Louisiana Highway 1, the only road on or off the island.
Further north in Livingston Parish, near Baton Rouge, anxiety was running high, said Brandi Janes, the homeland security director. The community had managed to avoid the worst of the 2020 storms, she said, but a slow-moving 2016 storm brought catastrophic flooding, and now fear of even run-of-the-mill showers.
With Ida growing stronger, and closer, Ms. Janes said, “it’s just dread and worry.”
— Chelsea Brasted
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 threatens to be the first major storm to strike the Gulf Coast during the 2021 season, hitting a region in many ways still grappling with the physical and emotional toll of a punishing run of hurricanes last year.
The Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 was the busiest on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of which reached hurricane strength. There were so many storms that forecasters ran through the alphabet and had to take the rare step of calling storms by Greek letters.
Louisiana was dealt the harshest blow, barraged repeatedly by storms, including Hurricane Laura, which was one of the most powerful to hit the state, trailed six weeks later by Delta, which was weaker than Laura but followed a nearly identical path, inflicting considerable pain on communities still gripped by the devastation from the earlier storm.
The state is still struggling to claw its way back. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said the state had $3 billion in unmet recovery needs. In Lake Charles, which was ravaged by direct hits from both hurricanes followed by a deadly winter storm and flooding in May, local officials recently renewed a plea for federal aid as the city has failed to regain its footing; much of it has yet to recover and many residents, unable to find adequate or affordable housing, have fled.
The looming impact of Ida underscores the persisting danger imperiling coastal communities as a changing climate stands to intensify the destructive force of the storms that have always been a seasonal part of life.
President Biden cited the growing danger in May when he announced a significant increase in funding to build and bolster infrastructure in communities most likely to face the wrath of extreme weather.
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 11 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 weaken as it churned through Louisiana and western Mississippi, forecasters said.
“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday,” the center said on Saturday morning, adding that parts of Louisiana could expect life-threatening floods when the storm makes landfall.
Tropical storm-force winds could arrive as early as Saturday night, the National Weather Service in New Orleans said on Twitter. Sections of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts should be prepared for life-threatening storm surges of up to 15 feet on Sunday, the center said.
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.
Traffic camera footage showed local highways clogged as people rushed to flee New Orleans. Farther south, in Lafourche Parish, the authorities enacted a 6 p.m. curfew on Saturday.
Along the Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch was issued for the New Orleans metropolitan area and the area between Cameron, La., and the border of Mississippi and Alabama.
A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil said on Friday 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 Yucatan 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.
What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?
During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean ->
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.
— The New York Times