As I told my class at the University of Georgia earlier this week, the “I” storms have been particularly bad in recent decades. Several “I” storm names including Irma (2017), Ingrid (2013), Irene (2011), Ike (2008), Ivan (2004), and Isabel (2003) have been retired. It is not surprising given that the “I” storm would likely also fall within the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season. Tropical Storm Ida, as of Friday morning, was becoming better organized near the Grand Cayman Islands and is expected to become a hurricane as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. Here are my three big concerns.
The first concern is that the storm is going to get stronger. The latest guidance from the National Hurricane Center forecasts a Major Hurricane (at least Category 3) before landfall in Louisiana. However, it is important to remember that hurricanes are not points or lines on a map. Impacts will be felt throughout (and beyond) the cone of uncertainty.
There are several reasons why Ida is expected to strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Kim is an atmospheric scientist based in Mississippi. She tweeted on Thursday, “Um. The Gulf is warm. Really warm.” She went on to say that 30 degrees C temperatures currently extend below 40 meters. Her Tweet exclamation was, “I don’t have words for that.” The map below shows the warm sea surface temperatures and signs of the loop current.
NOAA’s National Ocean Service website notes that, “The Loop Current is an area of warm water that travels up from the Caribbean, past the Yucatan Peninsula, and into the Gulf of Mexico.” In addition to some pretty high-octane hurricane fuel (warm water), the National Hurricane Center discussion on Friday morning hinted at favorable wind shear conditions soon. Forecasters wrote, “Some decrease in the shear is expected during the next 24 h, and that, combined with a moist environment and warm sea surface temperatures along the forecast track, should allow steady to rapid strengthening until the cyclone makes landfall along the northern Gulf coast.”
My second concern is the collection of impacts that always come with a strong hurricane – storm surge, flooding, winds, tornadoes, falling trees, and power outages. The state of Louisiana was in the hurricane cone of uncertainty eight times in 2020, and it is likely that people are hurricane fatigued. I suspect some of the infrastructure is still recovering too. If Ida does become a major hurricane, it brings the prospect of Category 3 level winds, over 2 feet of rainfall, tornadoes, and nearly a foot of storm surge.
My last concern is that the expected landfall area is a COVID-19 disaster right now. As the virus continues to explode (again) around the country, the Deep South is a hot mess right now. While I will not speculate on why that is (I have my hunches), the South stands out like a “flashing red light” on maps like the one below. I urge people to consider these facts and prepare accordingly as evacuation and contingency plans are made for Ida.
We are only three days from the anticipated landfall. This situation is rapidly evolving so the time to prepare is now. Stay safe and continue to follow the National Hurricane Center for updates.