August 27, 2021

Ida Set To Become A Major Hurricane Before Hitting Northern Gulf Coast On Sunday

Hurricane Ida is set to produce destructive winds and life-threatening storm surge when it makes landfall on the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. The NHC started using intense language—"potentially catastrophic wind damage"—to get the point across that this is an extremely serious storm. This will be a high-impact, memorable event for the southern United States. 

The Storm

Hurricane Ida had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph at the National Hurricane Center's 11:00 p.m. advisory.

The system is much healthier this evening than it was last night, even after crossing Cuba.

It's taking full advantage of warm waters and a favorable environment. Ida's got the look on satellite imagery, with deep convection swirling around the center of the storm, pronounced banding wrapping around its outer edges, and a big and scalloped upper-level outflow indicative of healthy thunderstorms in the storm's core.

The NHC's latest forecast is quite grim. The storm spent Friday evening over the western tip of Cuba. It's since emerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico, and now the hurricane pretty much has a blank check to strengthen as much as it can before it finally makes landfall on the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday.

Waters here are quite warm—upper 80s!—and the storm will face little environmental resistance. The only limiting factor will be any hiccups with its internal structure.

Forecasters are calling for Ida to become a high-end major hurricane before making landfall in southern Louisiana on Sunday. The storm is likely going to make landfall somewhere near Houma, but a dozen miles to the west or to the east will have enormous implications in regards to its wind, surge, and heavy rain.

The storm's track is bad news no matter how things play out.

If Ida trends east, it could put intense winds and a major storm surge into New Orleans. "New Orleans ending up in the eastern eyewall of a major hurricane" is among the top five nightmares that keep meteorologists awake at night.

If the storm trends west or heads into central Louisiana as predicted, the effects of storm surge on populated areas would be lessened, but the marshy coastline would lend little resistance to intense winds slamming into the Lafayette metro area, home to nearly half a million people, and eventually the Baton Rouge area.

That's to say nothing of the flooding rains, the tornadoes, and the widespread power outages—near the point of landfall and well inland—we're likely going to see along Ida's path into the southern states.

Folks in and around the path of the storm need to hurry up and get done what needs doing, because you don't have much time between now and when conditions go downhill this weekend

The Warnings

A hurricane warning (red) is in effect for all of southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.

A tropical storm warning (blue) is in effect for southwestern Louisiana, coastal Mississippi, and a portion of southwestern Mississippi.

A hurricane watch (pink) is in effect for counties in Mississippi currently under a tropical storm warning.

A tropical storm watch (yellow) is in effect for Mobile and Baldwin Counties in Alabama, as well as a swath of inland counties in Louisiana and Mississippi, including Jackson.

Notice how deep into Louisiana and Mississippi those watches extend. This system won't wind down immediately after crossing the coastline. We could see widespread inland power outages on top of the potential for flooding rains and tornadoes.

These watches and warnings will probably shift a bit as forecasters refine the storm's track over the next couple of days.

Storm Surge


We could see a storm surge as high as 10-15 feet above ground level in the hurricane's eastern eyewall. The NHC's surge forecast above is based on storm surge during high tide—if the tide is lower at landfall, then the peak surge would probably be lower as well.

If the storm stays on the NHC's projected track, Ida's worst surge will likely push into relatively unpopulated areas and communities that are built to withstand at least some measure of storm surge.

It's always concerning to see a storm surge pushed into Lake Pontchartrain, southern Mississippi, and southern Alabama. These areas are heavily populated and it doesn't take much surge to flood communities near the coast.

If you know folks in the region, please convince them to heed any evacuation orders. Staying is never worth the risk, either to the people who stay or the people have to rescue or recover them.

Flooding Rain

Freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall will be a significant issue as Ida pushes inland. Widespread double-digit rainfall totals are likely in southeastern Louisiana as the hurricane makes landfall, with 5+ inches of rain falling hundreds of miles inland along Ida's path.

Flash flooding from heavy rain is one of the leading causes of death during landfalling storms in the United States. Never drive through a flooded roadway. It only takes a few inches of moving water to lift up a vehicle and carry it downstream. It's impossible to judge how deep the water is until it's too late, and sometimes the road is washed out beneath the floodwaters.


Ida will have a large wind field that will extend more than a hundred miles from the eye of the storm. This means that communities pretty far away from the point of landfall could see widespread tree damage and power outages as the storm moves through, even far inland.

The worst wind damage will be where the eastern eyewall comes ashore. The winds of a major hurricane can severely damage or destroy even a well-built home. Wind finds every nook and cranny and leverages that weakness against the entire structure of the house. Usually, garage doors and roofs are the first to go, and the rest of the structure can follow.

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

Widespread, long-lasting power outages are likely where Ida makes landfall and for many miles inland along Ida's path.

Every time we have a landfalling hurricane, the extent and severity of inland power outages catches people off guard. 

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.


As always, there's going to be a risk for tornadoes as Ida makes landfall and probably for a couple of days after it starts pushing inland. Tornadoes are most likely on the right side of the system relative to its forward motion, which would be to the east of Ida's track.

The risk above will likely expand beyond Sunday as the hurricane pushes inland.

Tropical tornadoes happen quickly and they can occur with reduced lead time. Make sure you have a way to receive weather warnings the moment they're issued. Take a moment to check your cell phone's wireless emergency alerts and ensure they're activated for tornado warnings.

COVID Safety

Louisiana is at the peak of their worst surge in COVID cases since the pandemic began. SOURCELDH

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 contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.