August 26, 2021

New Tropical System 'Could Be Near Major Hurricane Strength' In The Gulf This Weekend


A new tropical depression formed in the Caribbean Sea on Thursday morning. This system is likely going to become Tropical Storm Ida by the end of the day as it heads toward the Gulf of Mexico this weekend.
Forecasters say the storm "could be near major hurricane strength" before hitting the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. Folks along the northern Gulf Coast have to act fast to prepare for this storm.

The National Hurricane Center has been watching this tropical disturbance for a couple of days now. Models over the last 24-36 hours have zeroed in on a likely landfall along the northern Gulf Coast this weekend.


The NHC's 11:00 a.m. advisory quickly strengthens the new tropical depression into Tropical Storm Ida on Thursday evening, steadily intensifying the storm as it traverses the Caribbean and aims for the tip of Cuba on Friday. The system "could be near major hurricane strength" (direct wording from the NHC) as it approaches the northern Gulf Coast this weekend.

Start Preparing Now

This is going to happen relatively quickly.

We're only 72-84 hours away from landfall. Conditions could start going downhill as early as Saturday night. Start preparing for a storm now, even if you're hundreds of miles inland from the coast. A strong storm can produce strong winds and widespread power outages far inland from the point of landfall.

Only a few barriers will stand in the way of this storm's eventual intensification. The system will encounter plenty of warm water between now and landfall.


Future-Ida's internal structure will be key to how quickly it intensifies. Conditions seem favorable for the storm to coalesce without much of an issue. However, plenty of Atlantic storms seemed poised to explode only to struggle to get their act together. 

Interaction with land is another question mark right now. If the storm makes landfall in Cuba as predicted, friction from the land will disrupt the storm even if only for a little while.

Otherwise, it looks like a straight shot between its current location and the northern Gulf Coast.

It's still too soon to pinpoint an exact landfall location—a shift of a few dozen miles in either direction has huge implications—but the storm's wind, rain, and storm surge will extend far away from the eye of the storm, so this is a concern for anyone in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

The National Hurricane Center will likely issue watches and warnings on Friday and Saturday, which is when we'll get specifics on the wind and storm surge.

The NHC issues forecast updates for the storm every six hours at 4:00 a.m./p.m. and 10:00 a.m/p.m. Central Time, with intermediate strength and position updates every three hours in between.

Flooding


This storm will produce very heavy rain as it pushes inland. The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows widespread totals of 3-5 inches stretching into Tennessee, with much higher totals near the coast. Rainfall totals and the location of the heaviest rain will shift around as forecasters refine the storm's eventual track and strength.

If you live in a flood zone, this is the time to prepare for flooding and potential evacuations. Think about your daily routes to work/school/wherever and map out alternate ways to get there.

Flash flooding from heavy rain is the leading cause of fatalities during a landfalling tropical cyclone in the United States. It only takes a few inches of moving water to lift a car and send it downstream.

Trees

If you have trees or tree limbs looming near your house, take them down or trim them now if you can. Trees falling into homes are a significant cause of injuries and fatalities during a tropical system. If you can't trim or chop any trees that could fall into your home, take great care to avoid those rooms during the strongest winds. Make the best of it and have a slumber party in a safe part of the house to lower your risk.

Power Outages

Here are some tips (which, full disclosure, I've mostly copied and pasted from a post last year) on what you need to do to prepare for an approaching storm:

➤ Food: Don't get caught in a lengthy power outage without any non-perishable food that you don’t have to cook. Fruit cups are good. Ravioli and Spaghetti-Os are good. Milk is no good. Neither is fresh meat. (Spam is great, if that’s your thing.) Have enough to last each person three meals a day for at least a few days. Assume that McDonald's won't have power, either.

➤ Water: Bottled water is fine. Bottle-it-yourself water is better on your wallet and better for the environment. Remember to bottle enough for drinking and to use for flushing the toilet and washing your hands.

➤ Light: You need batteries and flashlights. Not your cell phone’s flashlight feature. An actual flashlight—many, if you can swing it—along with enough batteries for a few refills each. Trust me. Relying on your cell phone’s flashlight feature during a long power outage will just drain your cell phone and leave you without communication or light, and that’s no good.

➤ Cell Phone Charging Packs: Speaking of cell phones, rechargeable battery packs are cheap enough now that they're in reach even on a budget. It's wise to invest in a good battery pack that can give your smartphone at least a few full batteries on a single charge. Even the cheaper ones they often sell near the checkout lane in Walmart are good for a quick battery boost in a pinch.

➤ Gas Up Your Car: Long gas lines are a staple of pre-hurricane coverage on the news, and for good reason. The only thing worse than being stuck at home with no power is being stuck in a powerless home because your car is running on empty. You don't want to get stranded at home (or elsewhere) without any gas. Top off your tank before the storm hits. 

➤ Money: Your debit card and credit card aren’t going to work if the power is out and you need to go to the store and buy stuff. If you can afford a small cushion, having some physical cash on hand can get you through an extended power outage.

➤ Prescription Meds: Keep up with your prescription refills during hurricane season. If you know there’s a storm brewing and one of your prescription refills is coming due, it’s wise to refill it because you don’t know when you’ll be able to get it filled again.

COVID Safety

This is our second hurricane season during the pandemic. We're seeing a huge uptick in cases across the country right now as the Delta variant takes hold. 

This will make it tougher to do things safely, especially when it comes to mass evacuation shelters. If it's feasible, take some time to consider COVID safety in your hurricane plans if you haven't received a vaccination or if you're otherwise immunocompromised.

It's tough to juggle two emergencies at once. But it's necessary. Hospitals are already strained to the limit in many parts of the south, and this storm (and its ensuing effects) will make it that much harder for medical workers to keep up with demand.


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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