August 27, 2020

As Laura Pushes Inland, It's Clear The Hurricane's Extreme Warnings Were Justifiable

Hurricane Laura made landfall in southwestern Louisiana early Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 150 MPH, making it the strongest hurricane on record to hit this stretch of the Gulf Coast. The storm left widespread damage in its wake as hurricane force winds dug deep into the heart of inland Louisiana. While it looks like the region avoided the absolute worst-case scenario when it comes to storm surge, it seems to have been by just a couple of miles.

The Damage

Daylight revealed tornado-like damage in and around Lake Charles after an extended period of intense winds in the eyewall of a high-end category four hurricane. Many homes and businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed by the storm. Social media is full of residents and storm chasers posting pictures of homes missing roofs and walls. The transmitting tower at KPLC-TV toppled into the studio where a crew would've been covering the storm had they not evacuated. 

The Weather Channel's Stephanie Abrams and Jim Cantore covered the storm from two adjacent casino resorts on the northern side of Lake Charles. The sound of the wind howling through both of their hotel lobbies—the ghostly whistling in Abrams' hotel and the chainsaw-like vibrations in Cantore's hotel—was one of the most gripping moments of storm coverage caught in a long time. 
Source: GR2Analyst

The National Weather Service in Lake Charles sustained damage around its property, including the complete loss of the office's Doppler weather radar. The scan above was the last image transmitted by the office's radar last night, taken just as the center of the eye made landfall. As far as I can find, this is the fourth WSR-88D site destroyed by a storm, joining radars in Texas (supercell, 2001), Nevada (windstorms, 2008), and Puerto Rico (Maria, 2017).

Communications went down before the storm shredded the radar to pieces, so they might have a few more scans of the storm saved somewhere before the radar failed. It's probably going to be a while before they can get a replacement radar online. Nearby radars in Houston, Fort Polk, and New Orleans will have to cover the northwestern Gulf Coast in the meantime.

Wind damage extended far inland through Louisiana, eastern Texas, and now into southern Arkansas. Data collected by PowerOutage.US showed nearly 30 percent of all electric customers in Louisiana without power this afternoon, including almost every home and business around where the storm made landfall.

All told, there are about 608,000 electric customers in Louisiana, 222,000 customers in Texas, and 36,000 customers in Arkansas without power around 2:30 PM CDT on Thursday. Many of these outages will last a week or longer, especially where the storm produced hurricane force winds. This kind of extended outage is going to be especially tough in a region that's still steeped in the heat and humidity of summer.

The full extent of the storm surge won't be clear for a while because the largest water rise likely occurred over low-population areas southeast of Lake Charles. A destructive surge pushed into Cameron, Louisiana, where most buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed by winds and water. The above video shows some helicopter footage shot above Cameron today. It's likely a similar story in Creole and Grand Chenier, coastal communities that experienced the hurricane's eastern eyewall.
Source: USGS
Given the path of the storm, it's probable that Cameron missed the highest surge and the worst occurred east of Calcasieu Lake. I bounded the area on a map of USGS sensors—you'll notice there aren't any sensors where it's likely that the worst surge occurred.

We may never know the true extent of the highest storm surge from this hurricane. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, since it means the worst happened out of the way where there aren't many structures to take a tape measure and record the high water mark.

There's an inevitable discussion today about whether or not the blunt wording used ahead of the storm—"unsurvivable storm surge"—was crying wolf.  We see it after almost every major weather event. This kind of manufactured erosion of trust could do harm going into the heart of an active hurricane season. 

It's easy to second-guess forecasts and the sternness of warnings in hindsight. We'd have a much different situation right now if the storm had wobbled just a few miles to the west, putting the eastern eyewall over Calcasieu Lake and pushing a huge surge into Lake Charles. That didn't happen, thankfully, so outside observers today feel pretty comfortable asking if warnings were over-the-top or worth it.

I've always sensed that the "Bust Or Validated?" debates after big weather events are tinged with a wisp of disappointment that flows just beneath the surface; discussions typically instigated by folks who seem crestfallen that the worst didn't happen and there's no footage of an immense surge washing away what the wind couldn't dislodge.

The difference in this case was just a few miles, just one wobble of the eye. The strong language was absolutely warranted. Lake Charles missed the worst surge, but communities along the coast didn't, and they're probably pretty grateful that they heard the warnings loud and clear and left. Either way, I'm sure that the folks in southwestern Louisiana who will spend the next few weeks sweating in the dark will be very interested in this discussion as they try to rebuild their homes and lives during a down economy and a raging pandemic.

Rain, Wind, and Tornadoes

The center of Tropical Storm Laura is located over southeastern Arkansas this afternoon. Laura and its eventual remnants will get caught up in the jet stream, turning east and racing toward the Mid-Atlantic through Saturday. The heaviest rain is falling right now across Arkansas, where some communities could see more than half a foot of rain. This much rain this fast will lead to flash flooding in vulnerable areas. 

We'll have to watch the storm closely as it picks up speed and heads out toward the Atlantic. The combination of gusty winds and heavy rain could lead to downed trees and power lines across the Tennessee Valley and the Mid-Atlantic over the next couple of days. There are some hints that the storm will pick up a little strength over land as a result of its interaction with the jet stream; this would increase the chances for gusty winds that could damage trees and lead to power outages.

A threat for tornadoes will follow the system out to the Atlantic Ocean. The Storm Prediction Center's forecast shows a risk for tornadoes in the Midsouth on Friday, moving into Virginia and North Carolina by Saturday. A risk for severe weather also exists up near the Great Lakes on Friday and Saturday; this isn't related to Laura, but it's worth paying attention to nonetheless.

The remnant system—whether it's still Laura's circulation or if it absorbs into another low nearby—will strengthen over the western Atlantic early next week and head toward the Canadian Maritimes, bringing these provinces some gusty winds and heavy rain.

Don't Look Now...

Source: NHC
It seems like we've lived through a full hurricane season already, but the climatological peak of the season doesn't happen for another two weeks. We've got a long way to go and there are already a few areas of interest far out in the Atlantic that we'll need to pay attention to over the next week.

Now that we have a fresh reminder of how much widespread damage a landfalling hurricane can do—and how far inland the impacts can spread!—this is a great time to make sure you're prepared to get through the rest of the season.

[Satellite: NOAA | Video: WXChasing on YouTube]

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August 26, 2020

'Unsurvivable' Storm Surge Likely As Intense Hurricane Laura Hits Louisiana Tonight

Hurricane Laura rapidly strengthened into a category four storm today with maximum sustained winds of 145 MPH. The storm will likely maintain this intensity as it makes landfall near the Texas/Louisiana state line late tonight. The hurricane will produce destructive winds and a catastrophic and "unsurvivable" storm surge across the low-lying communities in the path of the hurricane, and its flooding rains and damaging winds will extend far inland after it makes landfall.

As feared, the hurricane rapidly intensified overnight Tuesday into Wednesday as it took full advantage of a favorable environment and the steamy hot temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico. The ridge of high pressure allowing the storm to strengthen will start to weaken this evening, allowing the storm to curve into the Gulf Coast and head north toward Arkansas on Thursday. 

It's likely the hurricane is at or near its peak intensity right now as it'll encounter some wind shear near landfall. This is a healthy hurricane with a solid structure, though, so the damage is fated at this point and there's little hope of significant weakening before landfall.

Laura is a large storm. The hurricane's wind field stretches more than 300 miles across right now, which means tropical storm force winds could reach as far west as Houston and as far east as Baton Rouge. A system of this size and intensity will produce widespread wind damage and push an immense storm surge into the coast where it makes landfall.

Employees evacuated the National Weather Service office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, today, transferring their duties to other NWS offices around the country. NWS offices regularly plan and practice handing over responsibilities to other offices for just this kind of a situation. Folks who live in this region won't experience any disruption in watches or warnings issued by the agency. The fact that they had to shut down and leave should speak volumes to the threat posed to the region by this storm.

The hurricane will make landfall between Port Arthur and Lake Charles around midnight local tonight, steadily pushing inland over the next day or so. The worst of the wind and rain will reach northern Louisiana by Thursday morning and move into Arkansas during the day. The remnants of the storm will turn east and head toward the Mid-Atlantic this weekend. There's a chance that the storm could begin to redevelop in the Atlantic Ocean as it heads toward Newfoundland early next week.

This is an extremely tough situation for folks in harm's way. Lots of people in this region don't have the money or the means to evacuate during good times, let alone during an economic downturn in the middle of a raging pandemic. Given the extreme conditions expected during this storm's landfall, the news from the aftermath could be quite grim—more than we're used to by modern standards in this country—if lots of people didn't or couldn't evacuate.


The intense winds in the eyewall of a category four hurricane will damage most structures. Mobile homes will be destroyed. The gabled roofs on many homes will experience total or near-total failure, which could compromise the rest of the structure. Extensive and widespread tree damage will make travel nearly impossible even on roads that aren't flooded by the catastrophic surge. The power grid will take weeks to repair in the hardest-hit areas. 

Strong winds won't be confined to coastal communities. Hurricane warnings are in effect deep into eastern Texas and western Louisiana, with tropical storm warnings stretching up into southern Arkansas. These areas could see widespread tree damage and long-lasting power outages. As I mentioned last night, there are probably quite a few folks inland who will be surprised by the power outages.

Storm Surge

Source: National Hurricane Center

Laura is moving into a part of the Gulf Coast that's exceptionally vulnerable to a catastrophic storm surge. The coast here is miles and miles of swampland. There's not much to stop the full force of a devastating storm surge from pushing dozens of miles inland as this hurricane makes landfall.

This afternoon's update had about the strongest language the NHC can use:
Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes. This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows a potential storm surge of 15-20 feet above ground level that would push water dozens of miles into the Louisiana swamps. Their latest inundation forecast shows how far the water could push inland away from the coastline. Their map scale stops at "greater than 9 feet;" some of these areas could see double that depth.

Here's a zoomed-in look:

The U.S.G.S. set up a special network of sensors along the coast to measure Hurricane Laura's storm surge in real time. As of this post, the surge is already starting to rise in Cameron Parish and the storm is still a long way from landfall.

One of the hardest-hit communities could be Lake Charles, Louisiana, which sits just a few feet above sea level at the mouth of the Calcasieu River. Meteorologists expect a 15-20 foot storm surge to push into Lake Calcasieu, and the latest NWS forecast calls for water to crest at 15.6 feet at the gauge near downtown Lake Charles.

This would be the largest flood on record in Lake Charles, surpassing the previous record flood of 13.0 feet on October 1, 1913, during which record was a 13.0-foot flood measured on October 1, 1913; when water reaches that record height, "over half the city of Lake Charles is flooded."

Flooding Rains

Widespread flash flooding will result from Laura's heavy rains as it pushes inland over the next couple of days. Some communities near the center of the storm's path could see up to a foot of rain with the heaviest and most persistent rainbands. The swath of high rainfall totals will stretch into Arkansas as the storm slows down and turns east through the end of the week.

The greatest threat to the safety of folks who live inland will be flash flooding from heavy rain. It won't take long for these tropical rains to overwhelm waterways and sewerage systems. It's especially dangerous that much of the rain will occur at night, making it even harder to see water-covered roadways.


A risk for tornadoes exists on the eastern side of the storm as it pushes inland. Tornado warnings are already popping up along the storm's outer bands as thunderstorms tap into the low-level rotation in the atmosphere. Tropical tornadoes are no joke—they can happen quickly and they can cause significant damage. 

The risk for tornadoes will overspread Louisiana and into Arkansas and Mississippi through Thursday.

Beware The Comparisons

Source: NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks

If the hurricane maintains its intensity through the night, Laura would be the strongest storm to hit this stretch of coastline in records dating back to 1851. We're in uncharted territory as far as the type of damage this kind of wind and storm surge could do to this region.

Understandably, this hurricane is drawing comparisons with Harvey back in 2017. That was a devastating storm for southeastern Texas. But those comparisons are tainted by our bias toward recent storms and it muddles the true threats posed by the storm approaching land today.

Harvey came ashore near Corpus Christi as a category four and entered an environment with no upper-level winds to steer it along, forcing the storm to sit and spin over southeast Texas for days while it produced foot after foot of rain.

Laura, on the other hand, will keep moving at a steady pace once it's ashore. This storm will produce widespread inland flooding from heavy rains, but the greatest threat to life and property will be the storm's destructive winds and catastrophic storm surge.

If you're looking for a storm that might give some clue as to what will unfold tonight, the last major hurricane to make landfall near the Texas/Louisiana border was Hurricane Rita in 2005. Rita came ashore near Port Arthur, Texas, as a category three with 115 MPH winds.

That hurricane produced a storm surge as deep as 15 feet in southwestern Louisiana, devastating many communities in the region. The NHC's post-storm report noted that there was so much damage that analyzing the true extent of the storm surge was "daunting."

Each storm is different and even comparisons to Rita are tenuous. This region has never recorded such a strong hurricane at landfall, so comparing it to past storms is tough to begin with. But specifically bringing up Harvey in this situation is unnecessarily upsetting to folks who survived that storm three years ago, especially when the Houston area won't feel the worst of this storm tonight. 

[Satellite: NOAA]

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Hurricane Laura Could Reach Major Hurricane Strength By Landfall On Wednesday Night

Hurricane Laura will rapidly intensify over the next 24 hours as it heads toward Texas and Louisiana. It's likely that the storm will make landfall as a major hurricane near the state line on Wednesday night. The intense winds, deep and widespread storm surge, flooding rains, and tornadoes will make this a life-threatening situation for communities in the path of this hurricane. The potential for flash flooding and widespread power outages will extend far inland from the point of landfall. 

Tuesday night's update from the National Hurricane Center found a healthy hurricane that's strengthening in favorable environmental conditions and a hot Gulf of Mexico. Laura's pressure steadily dropped on Tuesday evening and its winds rose in kind; Hurricane Hunters found its maximum winds up to 90 MPH at the 10:00 PM CDT advisory.

Forecasters expect Laura to make landfall as a major hurricane. The only things that can slow or impede Laura's strengthening between now and landfall are 1) dry air wrapping into the system and disrupting its core, or 2) the hurricane struggling with its internal structure. The longer we go without either of those disruptions, the stronger the storm can get. 

Laura is sitting beneath a ridge of high pressure over the southeastern United States right now, which is why the environment is so favorable for strengthening. Calm upper-level winds and ample ventilation allow the storm to breathe and develop its inner-core. The storm will continue moving northwest through Wednesday afternoon, at which point a trough over the Mid-South will begin weakening ridge and allow the hurricane to curve north toward the coast.

The timing of this northward turn will determine where the hurricane makes landfall. Forecasters believe the northward curve will bring the storm ashore near the Texas/Louisiana border, pushing the most intense winds and storm surge into southwestern Louisiana. The cities of Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Lake Charles are at risk of suffering a direct hit from the core of this hurricane on Wednesday night.

However, any westward wobble could bring dangerous winds, heavy rains, and storm surge closer to densely populated communities in southeastern Texas. Anyone in or around Houston and Galveston needs to prepare for the potential for power outages, wind damage, and flash flooding.

If you live somewhere expected to be on the outer fringes of this hurricane, you've still got time to make sure you're ready for any strong winds or heavy rain. Bring in or tie down any loose items on your porch, balcony, deck, or in your yard. Make sure you've got enough supplies to get through a power outage. Know alternate routes to get around flooded roadways, and have a plan to leave if you live in a flood-prone area. You've got a little while on Wednesday morning to get ready—or to get out if you're told to do so by authorities.

Here's what communities in the direct path of the hurricane can expect as it comes ashore.

Storm Surge

Source: National Hurricane Center
Laura is heading for a landfall along a stretch of coastline that's exceptionally vulnerable to storm surge. A powerful hurricane like Laura can shove a storm surge deep into this swampy terrain, potentially inundating communities that are dozens of miles from the coast.

The NHC warns that Hurricane Laura's storm surge "could penetrate up to 30 miles inland from the coastline in southwestern Louisiana and far southeastern Texas." Really! Here's a look at the agency's latest inundation forecast, mapped out to include all those inland communities:

Winds are awful in their own right, but storm surge—and the waves on top of the surge—can wash away what the wind can't dislodge. There are almost certainly going to be people who ignore evacuation orders and find themselves in precarious situations, risking the lives of the rescuers who have to go out in the floodwaters to help them after the storm lets up.

Lots of factors can affect local storm surge depths. The shape and makeup of the coastline, the storm's precise track, the intensity of the winds at landfall, the angle the storm comes ashore, and the timing of the surge in relation to high and low tide are all factors in a location's exact surge depths.


The winds of a major hurricane will leave behind extensive damage in the hardest-hit areas. Sustained winds in excess of 100 MPH can easily destroy mobile homes and prefabricated homes that aren't well reinforced. Even well-built homes could experience major damage as a result of the hurricane's intense winds, likely including roof and wall failures and blown-out windows and doors.

Widespread power outages are likely along the storm's path inland into Arkansas, including in communities far to the west and east of the point of landfall. Extensive power line and tree damage could leave some communities in the dark for a week or longer. The power outages will probably come as a surprise to people far inland who weren't prepared.

Homes that are built to withstand strong winds may still be susceptible to flying debris and falling trees. A tall tree or sturdy limb can easily penetrate a roof or a wall, posing a serious threat to the safety of people and pets.

Flash Flooding

Rainfall totals could reach or exceed five inches along the path of the core of the storm as it makes its way inland. The heaviest rainfall totals are possible in Arkansas as the storm (or its remnants) get caught up in the jet stream, slowing down and turning east over the state. More than seven inches of rain could fall across a large swath of Arkansas, potentially leading to widespread flash flooding if persistent bands of heavy rain keep training over the same communities.

Some communities that experience a storm surge during landfall could experience river flooding in a couple of days as all the rainwater runoff drains back toward the Gulf of Mexico.


Tornadoes can be a significant hazard during landfalling tropical cyclones. There's enough low-level spin in a tropical cyclone that thunderstorms in the rainbands can spawn quick tornadoes. These tornadoes can be tricky to get ahead of; tornado warning lead time can be as little as just a few minutes. These tornadoes can occur far away from the point of landfall.

The greatest threat for tornadoes during Hurricane Laura will exist along and to the east of the center of circulation. This covers almost all of Louisiana beginning on Wednesday afternoon and it'll last for the duration of the storm. The tornado threat will move north into Arkansas on Thursday.

[Satellite: NOAA]

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August 24, 2020

Marco Approaches Louisiana Monday, Laura Threatens Gulf Landfall On Wednesday

It's late and it'll be even later by the time I get this post up, so I'll dispense with the drawn-out intro and get right to it. I'm sure you won't mind.

Tropical Storm Marco  —  The Gulf One

Marco had a brief stint as a hurricane on Sunday afternoon, but wind shear buffeting the storm from the southwest put a stop to that. There's not much difference between a 70 MPH tropical storm and a 75 MPH hurricane, but our silly human brains like artificial boundaries and round numbers, so that's an unnecessarily big distinction for lots of people.

The National Hurricane Center's forecast changed a bit on Sunday, bringing the storm just to the coast before turning it west. If this forecast were to play out exactly as shown, it'd be a 50/50 shot whether or not the center of the storm comes ashore at all. It doesn't really matter, though, because it could have some disruptive impacts in an area that can't bear any disruptions right now while it awaits Laura in a few days.

Strong winds will likely lead to power outages that'll be tough for crews to restore before Laura approaches the area. Even areas that see light damage might have extended power outages simply due to the timing of the two storms and the need to keep power crews safe and out of harm's way until both storms are gone.
Source: National Hurricane Center
Coastal flooding will be an issue in areas that see an extended period of onshore winds. The NHC's 10:00 PM CDT advisory shows the potential for a storm surge of 4-6 feet between Morgan City and the Mouth of the Mississippi River, with potential surge depths tapering off to the west and east of there. That's a life-threatening surge that could easily wash out roads and inundate structures right along the coastline. Don't mess with surge—but if you live right along the coast (and you're reading me, hi!), you probably don't need to be told that.

Regarding the threat for storm surge and wind damage, there's this note from the NHC:
"It is worth noting that Marco is a small tropical cyclone. The large area of Tropical Storm and Hurricane watches and warnings along the northern Gulf Coast is a reflection of the unusually high uncertainty in the forecast, and it is unlikely that all of those regions will experience tropical-storm-force winds or life-threatening storm surge associated with Marco."
Marco's tropical storm force winds only extend 70 miles from the center of circulation, and the strongest winds only encompass a small portion of that wind field. Given its small size, the exact track of the storm will influence its effects.

Flash flooding from heavy rain is a concern near the coast, especially if the storm starts paralleling just offshore, which might slow the weakening trend more than if the core of the storm was fully over land. Any flooding issues from Marco will be compounded by the rains of Laura; many areas won't have time to fully drain the excess runoff before the second storm arrives in the middle of the week.

Marco should slowly wind-down and head off toward Texas through the middle of the week, setting the stage for Laura's arrival.

Tropical Storm Laura  —  The Caribbean One

Laura, much like Isaias a few weeks before it, really went out of its way to avoid getting torn apart by the mountains of the Greater Antilles. The latest advisory actually strengthened Laura's winds even as the center of the storm was over eastern Cuba. If the system can survive the rest of its encounter with the mountainous island nation, it'll be in a sturdier position to take root and grow in strength when it hits the Gulf of Mexico.

Not too much has changed regarding the system's track in the last day. Anyone from Houston to Mobile needs to be on high alert and fully prepared to take action just in case the storm ventures off its predicted track. Forecasters will adjust Tropical Storm Laura's track and intensity over the next few days as they get better data and the storm settles into its post-mountains routine.

My greatest fear with this system is that folks who experienced Marco on Monday will go "ah, that was nothing" and they'll be tempted to ignore Laura. The Gulf is steamy right now and the atmosphere is expected to become favorable for intensification by the time this storm arrives in the region. The NHC, which errs on the side of caution when it comes to quick intensification, notes that Laura might be near major hurricane strength (category three) when it nears the coast on Wednesday.

[Satellite: NOAA]

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August 22, 2020

Hurricane Watches For Northern Gulf Coast Ahead Of Marco; Laura Not Far Behind

You know how meteorologists always say to check the forecast frequently because things can change in a hurry? Today is why. The National Hurricane Center's forecast for Tropical Storm Marco changed quite a bit from this time yesterday, bringing the storm toward the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane on Monday, making landfall in almost the same spot they expect another hurricane to make landfall a day or two later.

Two Storms In Two Days

This is an...odd...situation, and it's not one we've dealt with in living memory. Current forecasts show two different hurricanes making landfall on the same stretch of coastline within about two days of each other. It's certainly possible as far as these scenarios go—two different storms taking two different approaches to the same area—but it's one we've been lucky enough not to have encountered before.

All that stuff about the storms merging and the Fujiwhara effect—which I discussed yesterday—seems much less likely than it did a few days ago. The storms should lag each other by at least a day, putting enough space between each storm that they'll both be able to enter the Gulf of Mexico individually without trying to destroy one another or throw the other off-track.

Laura and Marco both originated from tropical waves that rolled off the western coast of Africa a few days apart. The first wave, Marco, took a more southerly track that brought it across the length of the Caribbean Sea, while the second wave, Laura, skirted a little to the north and brought it across the region's northern islands.
Source: Tropical Tidbits

Even though both systems took different paths, their ultimate tracks will be influenced by a large ridge of high pressure sitting off the coast of the southeastern United States. These ridges act like a cross between guard rails and conveyor belts; the ridge prevents the storm from curving out to sea while also guiding it along the outer perimeter of the ridge, which is what'll likely guide both systems into the Gulf Coast early next week.

The forecasts will likely change over the next couple of days. Communities that aren't currently in the predicted path of these two storms shouldn't exhale just yet, especially since the models suddenly lurched Marco's path east this morning and Laura is still a full four days away from land. Lots has changed in the last day and lots more can change in the next four days. 

If you live in or near the paths of these storms, it's important to prepare now so it's not a mad scramble to get groceries or secure property when it's too late and there's a thousand things to do at once. Watching these storms for days at a time can be maddening—things keep changing!—but it's great fortune that we can watch these storms approach land so far in advance. Take advantage of the advanced warnings and prepare for the potential for extended power outages, tree damage, and flooding. Hurricane prep isn't as daunting as it can seem; I wrote up a small list the other day to help you along with your plans.

Tropical Storm Marco —The Gulf One

Tropical Storm Marco entered the Gulf of Mexico late this afternoon, squeezing through the Yucatan Channel without ever having made landfall near Cancun like yesterday's forecasts predicted. The storm followed the outside edge of the cone of uncertainty—which is the historical margin of error in a track forecast—and it's now heading north toward the northern Gulf Coast. 

The Gulf of Mexico is a vat of bathwater right now. Sea surface temperatures across most of the Gulf are hovering in the upper 80s, which is plenty warm enough to allow a storm to take off if environmental conditions allow. While Marco isn't expected to undergo rapid intensification right now, storms can unexpectedly intensify, especially when they're passing over such warm waters. This is why it's so important not to under-prepare for a storm thinking it's "only" going to be a certain strength when it reaches land.

The latest forecast shows the storm reaching hurricane strength before it makes landfall along the Louisiana coast during the day on Monday, slowly working its way inland through the middle of the week. The forecast track can and probably will change a bit over the next couple of days, so don't assume you're out of the woods if you're in or near the cone of uncertainty.

Here are the greatest risks with Marco as it makes landfall:

➤ Winds: Wind damage is likely during Marco's landfall. The winds of a high-end tropical storm or category one hurricane will lead to widespread power outages. The unique situation of having two storms hit the same area at once will make it difficult for crews to safely restore electricity between storms. If you live in an area expecting these storms, anticipate days-long power outages and get enough flashlights, batteries, food, and water to last for the duration.

Source: National Hurricane Center

➤ Storm Surge: Any landfalling storm can generate a life-threatening surge of seawater into the coast. The NHC's calling for a 3-5 foot storm surge to the east of where the storm makes landfall, which right now would stretch from Grand Isle to Mobile Bay.

The surge forecasts will change as the storm draws closer to landfall. The depth of a storm surge depends on a number of factors, including its size and intensity at landfall, as well as the shape and makeup of the coastline it hits and whether landfall occurs during high or low tide.

➤ Flooding: Flash flooding is likely from the storm's heavy rain, even in communities hundreds of miles inland from the point of landfall. The rainfall is going to be exacerbated by two storms hitting the same region. The map above shows this afternoon's 7-day rainfall forecast from the Weather Prediction Center.

➤ Tornadoes: Portions of eastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and southern Alabama could see an extended risk for tornadoes this week. As we saw with Hurricane Isaias earlier this month, tornadoes are common when a tropical cyclone makes landfall, especially in the right-front quadrant, which is the eastern side of the storm in this case.

Tropical tornadoes occur quickly and they often come with reduced lead time. Make sure you're always close to safe shelter if you're under threat from this storm, and keep the alerts activated on your smartphone in case your location receives any tornado warnings at night when you're asleep.

Tropical Storm Laura  —  The Caribbean One

Tropical Storm Laura is still chugging along despite interacting with the rough terrain of the Greater Antilles. The system has maximum sustained winds of 50 MPH right now and the latest forecast drags the tropical storm over the length of Hispaniola and Cuba through Monday morning.

These are mountainous islands and Laura isn't exactly a juggernaut right now, so this storm's forecast is much more uncertain than Marco's. It wouldn't take much for the high mountains of these islands to severely disrupt Laura's circulation, making an open question of its future track and intensity. The tropical storm could easily survive its island pass, though, if its inner core misses the islands' roughest terrain, and there's plenty of time and space for the storm to redevelop if it does get disrupted.

Right now, the National Hurricane Center's forecast expects the storm to handily survive its encounter with the mountains and emerge over open waters near the Florida Keys on Monday, where tropical storm watches are in effect tonight. 

If things play out as predicted, Laura will lag behind Marco by about two days, making landfall in the same general vicinity as Marco. The angle of approach would be different this time, which matters for the effects of strong winds and storm surge, but the risk for tornadoes and inland flooding from heavy rain would remain the same.

Laura is still about four days away from the Gulf Coast no matter what it does, so we have more time to watch and the forecast has more time to change. Anyone in Florida or along the Gulf Coast needs to watch this storm's developments closely. As we saw with Marco's change in track between yesterday and today, it doesn't take much of a shift for a situation to change dramatically in either direction.

It's worth noting that the Gulf will be ripe for intensification by the time Laura gets there, whatever state it arrives in. If Laura is healthy when it reaches the Gulf, the combination of low wind shear and bathwater sea temperatures could allow the storm to gather strength in a hurry as it closes in on the coast.

The National Hurricane Center releases fresh forecasts every six hours (at 5 and 11 AM/PM Eastern), with position and intensity updates every three hours in between.

[Satellite: NOAA]

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August 21, 2020

Here's The Latest On The Two Storms Heading Toward The Gulf This Weekend

The latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center show the potential for two different tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico next week. If their predictions come to pass, the Gulf Coast could see two landfalls within 24 hours of one another. While two storms in the Gulf at once isn't completely without precedent, it's rare because it's an extremely difficult feat for the atmosphere to achieve.

Dispelling The Myths

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat.

There is no such thing as a "double hurricane."

There is no such thing as a "megastorm" or a "superstorm."

These two storms won't multiply their strength if they merge.

The two storms wouldn't comically rotate around one another like they're doing an oceanic tango—but more on that farther down the article.

This kind of a situation is like catnip for news outlets that couldn't care less about the weather until there's something they can hype for clicks and ratings. It's a crying shame that they can't cover weather for weather's sake, but that's the way it is and we're all worse off for it.

But I digress.

Tropical Storm Laura — The Atlantic One

Tropical Storm Laura is the system in the northeast corner of the Caribbean right now. The storm got upgraded to a tropical storm today but it's still struggling, though not as much as last night. The center of the storm is very close to St. Kitts right now and it could bring tropical storm conditions to the Greater Antilles over the next couple of days. Tropical storm watches and warnings are in effect along the forecast path of the storm through the weekend.

Laura has a ton of obstacles along the path ahead of it. Many storms that hug the islands wind up shredding apart before they ever make it to Florida or the Gulf. The rough terrain of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba can tear apart the circulation and thunderstorms the heart of a cyclone, especially a cyclone that was struggling to begin with.

Nevertheless, the National Hurricane Center's forecast calls for the storm to survive its encounter with the islands and close in on the Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico as a high-end tropical storm or a category one hurricane.

The best thing to do right now if you live in Florida or along the northern Gulf Coast is to prepare for a hurricane as if there was no uncertainty about this storm's future. If you're prepared for power outages and flooding now, you don't have to rush or panic next week if the storm survives and heads in your direction.

Tropical Storm Marco — The Caribbean One

Marco is the system in the western Caribbean heading toward the Yucatan Peninsula. The National Hurricane Center's latest forecast calls for it to quickly gain strength over the next day and make landfall near Cancun as a strengthening tropical storm this weekend; as such, a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect for the coast ahead of the storm.

Forecasters expect Marco to move into the western Gulf of Mexico late this weekend and early next week. Same as with Laura over in the Atlantic, folks in Texas have plenty of time to prepare now for the potential for flooding and power outages.

A Busy Few Days In The Gulf

The track of those two storms takes them both into the Gulf of Mexico at about the same time:

That's...not great! If both forecasts verify, the Gulf of Mexico will have seen two landfalls in 24 hours. It's pretty rare for something like that to happen because it's pretty hard for the atmosphere to support two storms in a confined space like the Gulf.

But it's also worth noting that the timing isn't quite what it looked to be yesterday. The NHC's forecasts have Marco moving faster than Laura now. If it plays out exactly as predicted right now, Marco will be inland over Texas while Laura is moving into the northern Gulf Coast. That's not exactly the super-mega-oh-no storm you've seen in science-adjacent news articles over the last 24 hours. The timing could still change, but they won't affect each other quite as much as they could if Laura lags behind Marco.

Tropical Cyclones Need Room To Breathe

I mentioned that it's really hard for the atmosphere to support two storms in the Gulf of Mexico at once. The scenario of two hurricanes swirling through the Gulf at the exact same time is pretty difficult to achieve due to the nature of the storms themselves. Tropical cyclones don't exist in a bubble. They fully interact with and influence the environments around them.

I often use the phrase "thunderstorms are the engine that drives a tropical cyclone" in my posts when I try to explain how and why a storm is doing what it's doing. Here's a little of how that works, and why it's so important in a case like this.

A tropical cyclone develops from a cluster of thunderstorms over warm waters. These thunderstorms feed their energy from rising air warmed by the water below. Stronger, healthier thunderstorms can develop stronger updrafts that evacuate massive amounts of air from the surface and vent it into the upper atmosphere.

This process leaves less air—and lower air pressure—at the surface beneath the thunderstorms. If those thunderstorms persist and they keep sucking air away from the surface, the resulting center of low pressure will continue to deepen and strengthen, thereby strengthening the thunderstorms feeding it. 

As this process continues, more and more air gets sucked away from the surface and vented into the upper atmosphere. This leads to an anticyclone—a center of high pressure—in the upper-levels of the atmosphere directly above a healthy tropical cyclone. The center of high pressure aloft exhausts all that pent-up air out and away from a storm, allowing it to continue sucking air from the surface and maintaining the feedback loop that powers the storm. You can see this process play out on satellite imagery by watching the high cirrus clouds fan out from the center of the storm in a clockwise motion, adding that classic pinwheel appearance to a healthy storm.

Why does that matter here? If we get at least one strong tropical storm or hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, it's going to have that exhaust system in place above the storm. That exhaust produces wind shear that can tear apart any storms that get too close. If Laura and Marco somehow both made it to the Gulf at the same time as healthy storms, they're going to be fighting each other for room to breathe, and that's going to be a tough environment for whichever storm is weaker and less-organized by that point.

The Fujiwhara Effect Is Real

Hurricanes Hilary and Irwin rotating around one another and merging in the eastern Pacific in 2017. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I love this term. I really do. It hardly ever comes up unless there's something cool in the weather models and meteorologists need something to talk about during quiet periods. The Fujiwhara Effect describes the tendency for two cyclones to orbit around each other if they get within a few hundred miles of each other.

There are a few fantastic examples of the Fujiwhara Effect in action, including with Hilary and Irwin in the eastern Pacific in 2017. A days-long water vapor animation is shown above—both because it's really instructive and, well, it's the only animation I could find that's freely available for use.

If Laura and Marco get too close to each other in the Gulf of Mexico, they won't start rapidly swirling around each other like two clumps of bubbles circling the drain. The practical effect would be that they would sort of throw each other off track, each pulling the other storm a little closer to it, which would nudge Laura's track a bit farther west and Marco's track a bit farther east.

During this interaction, just like when it comes to the storms duking it out through wind shear, the stronger and more well-organized storm will have the advantage over the weaker storm.

We'll know more in the coming days, but if one storm continues to lag behind the other on their way to the Gulf, this particular adventure in physics might not be an issue at all as each storm moves toward the coast.

[Satellite: NOAA]

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August 20, 2020

Two Different Tropical Systems Could Threaten The Southern U.S. Early Next Week

The United States could deal with two different tropical cyclones making landfall in the southern states next week. It's an odd setup with lower forecast confidence than usual. The threat exists, though, and anyone who lives in the southern United States needs to closely watch the forecasts and prepare now for the potential for flooding rains and gusty winds.

The formation of these two systems shouldn't come as a huge surprise to folks who check the weather every day. We've watched these two disturbances since they rolled off the western coast of Africa days ago. Even though these two systems are developing at about the same time and they could arrive in the United States at about the same time, they're two very different systems that are interacting with different environments.

Tropical Depression Thirteen — Atlantic

Between the two storms, T.D. Thirteen appears as if it's moving into the most favorable environment for strengthening. If it can survive the next day or so, and that seems to be a big if, the system will move into an environment with warm waters and low wind shear, which should allow the system to slowly strengthen as it moves toward Florida over the next five days.

The greatest uncertainty around the system right now involves its current structure. It's difficult for meteorologists and model guidance to get a good handle on a storm's ultimate track and intensity before it develops. Right now, T.D. Thirteen is rather disorganized, without much of an inner core for the system to take root and develop. It's really struggling to hang on at the moment. Once and if the system develops that solid inner core, we'll have a better idea of what it'll look like by the time it approaches the United States.

Tropical Depression Fourteen — Western Caribbean

T.D. Fourteen is the greatest threat to land at the moment. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the coast of Honduras as the system isn't too far off land right now. The NHC warns the storm could produce 2-4 inches of rain in Honduras and 3-6 inches in the Yucatan Peninsula, leading to the potential for flash flooding and mudslides. Higher totals are possible on the windward side of mountains.

Other than the system's disheveledness, two of the biggest factors that play into its future are land interaction and wind shear. The system is expected to make landfall twice before it reaches the Gulf; first in Honduras tomorrow, then again on the Yucatan Peninsula later this weekend. The structure of this system will determine how much of an effect the land has on its future. A stronger and more organized system will have an easier time surviving a brief landfall than a sloppy system. 

High-Stakes Watching And Waiting

It's pretty rare to have two different storms approach the United States at roughly the same time. Maddening as it is, this is one of those situations where we'll have to watch and wait to see how the systems develop. We should have a much clearer picture on Friday and Saturday once (and if) the systems get organized and weather models have a chance to ingest data collected in and around the systems by Hurricane Hunter aircraft.

This is the time to prepare for whatever happens next. Make sure you've got the supplies necessary to deal with a power outage. If you live in an area where evacuations may be necessary, know where you'll go ahead of time. Some communities may alter or shutter their community shelters in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It's tough to deal with multiple crises at once. Planning in advance lets you make the best decision for yourself and your family.

More Name Records?

If both of these depressions reach tropical storm status, this hurricane season will have seen the earliest C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, and M storms on record. The current record for the earliest twelfth ("L") named storm on record is Hurricane Luis on August 29, 1996. The current record for the earliest thirteenth ("M") named storm on record is Hurricane Maria on September 2, 2005.

However, for right now, they're still tropical depressions and haven't achieved a name yet. Just remember that Thirteen is in the Atlantic and Fourteen is in the Caribbean. Which one gets which name isn't too much of a big deal. (Or, maybe it is.) 

[Satellite: NOAA]

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Here's What You Need To Know About The Impending Peak Of Hurricane Season

We're coming up on the peak of hurricane season. It feels like we've already passed that point since we've seen so many named storms this year, but we don't hit the climatological peak of the season until the second week in September. It's important to use this time as an opportunity to prepare for what forecasters expect will be an active couple of months. 

1) What We've Seen

This hurricane season is off to a record start. An average year would only have seen the 3rd or 4th named storm by this point in August. This year, though, we'd seen 11 named storms by August 14th, and there's plenty more to come.

The map above shows what we've seen in the Atlantic so far this year. The season started with Tropical Storm Arthur off the coast of Florida in the middle of May, making this the sixth year in a row we've seen the first named storm form before the "official" start of the season on June 1.

This year rivals 2005 in terms of the raw number of named storms that have formed by this point. Even though we're off to a faster pace than the awful season 15 years ago, this year's storms so far don't hold a candle to the early-season storms of 2005 (think: Dennis and Emily). With the exception of Hurricane Isaias, most of the storms we've seen this year were relatively weak and short lived. Don't take too much solace in that fact, though. It only takes one bad storm hitting land to make a "mundane" season tragic.

2) What's Could Come Next

Sea surface temperature anomalies (°C) during the week of August 15, 2020. Source: NHC

Forecasters recently updated their seasonal outlooks to bump up the seasonal numbers to include the storms we've already seen this year. In short, they're still expecting an active season on top of what we've already seen; the A through K storms this season were the appetizer before the main course.

NOAA's updated outlook, issued August 6 calls for a total of 19-25 named storms this year, including many hurricanes and a handful of those hurricanes strengthening into major hurricanes (category three or higher). Colorado State University's revised outlook from August 5 falls along the same lines, calling for a total of 24 named storms by the end of the season.

Some of the favorable conditions include:

➤ Warm sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic basin. The thunderstorms that drive hurricanes derive their energy from warm sea surface water. The warmer the water, the greater the opportunity for organization and strengthening. Warmer waters also allow sea surface temperatures to rebound quicker after a storm passes by, affording subsequent storms more energy to work with if they pass over the same area.

➤ We're heading into a period that could see one disturbance after another roll off the western coast of Africa, increasing the odds that at least a few of them will develop.

➤ The eastern Pacific Ocean has ENSO-Neutral conditions right now and the region could head into a La Niña as we move into the fall. La Niña, or abnormally cool waters in the eastern Pacific, cut down on thunderstorms and tropical cyclones in that part of the world, which lessens the destructive wind shear that can flow east toward the Caribbean and Atlantic and shred apart any disturbances trying to develop. 

A seasonal outlook is a general guide. This year's forecasts are like blinking red lights hanging over the Atlantic Ocean, giving folks in harm's way a heads-up that conditions are very favorable for lots of storms to develop over the next couple of months. Even though we've already had 11 named storms so far, we've still got more than 80 percent of the season left to get through and it could be very active. 

3) We Might Run Out Of Names

Astute weather enthusiasts will note that, if the high end of those outlooks comes to pass, we could run out of names before we run out of storms. We all love a good process story (and how!), so here's a refresher on how it works if we run out of storm names.

The Atlantic Ocean has six lists of names that are reused every six years. 2020's list was last used in 2014 and (minus any retirements) it'll be used again in 2026. The lists exclude names beginning with the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z for lack of suitable replacements, leaving us with 21 names to roll through each year.

If (or when) we reach the last name on this year's list—Wilfred—any named storms that form after that will be named using Greek letters. The hyperactive 2005 hurricane season is the only year we've ever exhausted the list of names; 27 storms formed that season, with the last six named using the Greek alphabet.

The Greek alphabet goes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, and Omega.

We got through Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005, which formed on December 30 that year and continued through January 6, 2006. If a storm forms after midnight on January 1, it would count toward the 2021 hurricane season and we'd start using that year's list of names.

If you're wondering, there's no set procedure to retire a Greek letter—the consensus seems to be we'd either skip the letter or just keep using it—nor is there a Plan C in case we exhaust that alphabet as well. However, if we have 46 named storms in one year, figuring out what to call them would be the very least of our worries.

4) A Small Chance Doesn't Mean No Chance

It's common to see a low chance for development on the NHC's tropical weather outlooks. We like to brush off a low risk of anything—low risk of storms, low risk of rain, low risk of getting run over by a reindeer—but ignore any risk of tropical cyclone development at your own peril. 

We've already seen it happen once this season. On the evening of May 26, the National Hurricane Center’s tropical weather outlook gave a disturbance off the Southeast coast a 30 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone within the next day or so. The next morning, the disturbance quickly organized into Tropical Storm Bertha and made landfall just a few hours later. 

Not much changed impacts-wise once the disturbance organized into a tropical storm. The system was destined to bring plenty of rain and gusty winds to the Carolinas regardless of its development.

But rapid changes aren’t always so innocuous. Think about 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which rapidly developed into a category four hurricane as it approached Texas, and Hurricane Michael one year later, which explosively developed into a scale-topping category five hurricane as it made landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

A low chance doesn’t mean no chance. Goodness knows we’ve found that out plenty of times in recent years. Things happen fast in the weather world and it’s a great fortune that we live in a time where we can track sudden changes in a storm’s organization and warn people as it happens.

If there’s a disturbance or a storm approaching land, it's important to pay attention and check in with the latest forecasts and warnings every couple of hours. Weather forecasting is still an inexact science, and storms can still catch us off guard.

5) We're Exceptionally Vulnerable This Year

We're in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic and a tinderbox political environment. This summer more than any, the United States is uniquely vulnerable to significant disruptions as a result of a landfalling tropical system.

It's bad enough going into an active hurricane season during normal times, but any bad storm right now could tip communities over the edge into catastrophe. Whether it’s a major hurricane barreling toward the coast or a slow-moving mess that floods communities with double-digit rainfall totals, it’s going to be incumbent upon each of us as individuals and families to have a plan and know exactly what to do if your home is threatened by rising waters or high winds.

Coastal communities are doing their best (we hope, anyways) to figure out how to work evacuation shelters and emergency response plans with the coronavirus in mind. The very last thing we need during a landfalling hurricane is a coronavirus outbreak among people who are displaced from their homes, which would not only put enormous stress on the people who can’t go home (or have no home left to go back to), but it would also put unnecessary strain on local hospital systems that might be overwhelmed already.

6) Forecasts Are More Than Just A Map

There’s more than meets the eye in a hurricane forecast. The design of a hurricane forecast map is inherently misleading given the risks posed by these often-sprawling storms.

The Cone Of Uncertainty Isn’t Just For Show

The cone of uncertainty is the historical margin of error in a tropical system’s forecast path. Every year, meteorologists at the NHC verify their forecasts to see how far off their forecast points were from the actual location of the storm’s eye at each timestep in the forecast.

Historically, the center of a cyclone stays within the cone of uncertainty two-thirds of the time, venturing outside of the cone the other one-third of the time.

If you look at past forecasts compared to recent ones, you’ll notice that the cone is much smaller than it was just a couple of years ago, and it’s quite slim compared to 10 or 20 years ago.

The Cone Is Just For The Center Of The Storm

It’s important to remember that a hurricane forecast map entirely revolves around the center of the storm. Some hurricanes are 600 miles across, meaning the effects of their wind, rain, and storm surge will extend hundreds of miles from the center of the storm.

Rain, Rain, Rain

Much of the focus on a landfalling storm revolves around the wind and storm surge right at the coast, but as we’ve seen so many times in recent years, it’s the rain that can do the most damage over the widest area.

An unnamed tropical disturbance in 2016. Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Hurricane Florence in 2018. Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019. It seems like we have at least one of these horrendous flooding events every year, and the probability of these destructive inland flooding events will grow as a changing climate brings about more frequent and more prolific heavy rain events.

Track Is More Accurate Than Intensity

Hurricane forecasts have improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. Thanks to improved forecasting techniques and better modelling, hurricane track forecasts are much more accurate than they were just ten years ago.

One of the important things to remember about a tropical cyclone forecast is that, as a general rule, there's more confidence in track forecasts than intensity forecasts. Intensity forecasts are pretty darn good—we don't get too many significant surprises anymore, but storms can still take us by surprise.

Fluctuations in the intensity of a tropical cyclone often rely on subtle and fragile conditions in and around the storm. Sometimes,  modern tools and technology can miss when a storm will rapidly intensify (or rapidly fall apart). This usually isn't too much of a concern when a storm is far out to sea, but when it happens close to land—like Harvey's sudden intensification into a category four storm as it approached Texas in 2017—it can have tremendous consequences for folks in the path of the storm.

7) Easily Overlooked Prep

We all know to stock up on food and water before a hurricane hits, but as we saw with the panic shopping at the beginning of the pandemic, we’re too settled into the mindset of preparing for all disasters like blizzards. Here's what we should focus on heading into the peak of the season.

Travel Plan: The greatest physical most folks could face during a landfalling tropical cyclone is flash flooding from torrential rains. You're probably at greater risk of getting stranded by a flooded road than you are of losing your home to extreme winds or a devastating storm surge. If you live in any state that borders the coast—not just a community near the coast, but hundreds of miles inland—scope out and program into your phone alternate routes to get to work, school, the store, and home in the event that a common road near you is flooded out. Most deaths during a tropical system are the result of people drowning in freshwater flooding.

Evacuation Plan: If you live along or near the coast, start thinking now about what you'll do if you're told to evacuate. Evacuating is tough during "normal" circumstances, but it's especially difficult now that we have to stay mindful of the coronavirus. Some communities are encouraging the use of hotels or staying with family or friends to lessen the burden on community shelters.

Power Outage Plan: Landfalling tropical cyclones can generate widespread power outages long after they've weakened and traveled many hundreds of miles inland. We saw it with Isaias just a couple of weeks ago; many of the folks who lost power for a week or longer in the Northeast weren't prepared for it. It's easy to overlook the threat for power outages until the lights go out. I sound like a broken record at this point—plunking this list at the bottom of every hurricane post and even posting it in Forbes a few weeks ago—but here are some things you need to get through an extended power outage.

➤ Food: You want to focus on 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. F-L-A-S-H-L-I-G-H-T-S. 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. Fill up the 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.

[Top Image: NHC]

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