Hurricane Ida is increasing to potentially catastrophic and life-threatening proportions as it reaches the Gulf Coast. Louisiana is under a state of emergency as the storm moves toward New Orleans, with an expected landfall Sunday afternoon.
Early Sunday morning, the National Hurricane Center announced that Ida had been upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 250 mph. In the 7 a.m. CT advisory, the center expressed a heightened sense of urgency about Ida and warned of “life-threatening” storm surges.
Just before 8 a.m. CT, reported the National Hurricane Center: that hurricane-force winds were felt on the southeast Louisiana coast as the storm moved within about 100 miles of New Orleans.
Ida’s expected arrival comes 16 years to the day Hurricane Katrina first made landfall in southern Louisiana — killing more than 1,800 and causing $125 billion in damage across the region.
Ida gets stronger and could become a Category 5 storm
Jamie Rhome, the acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, told NPR Ida could step up further as it approaches Louisiana. Should Ida reach sustained winds of 157 mph or more, it would be considered a Category 5 hurricane.
“It shows absolutely no signs of weakening,” Rhome said. “In fact, it can still get a little stronger — even as it approaches the shoreline.”
The National Hurricane Center has not given a specific timeline for when Ida will make landfall, simply predicting it would reach Louisiana sometime Sunday afternoon. Rhome said the storm’s sheer size is likely to cause widespread damage across the region.
“You’re talking about a broad swath of hurricane-force winds drifting inland this afternoon and evening hitting the New Orleans area with hurricane-force winds and certainly gusts in those conditions that those conditions would absolutely bring down trees, widespread power outages,” Rhome said.
In a briefing on SaturdayGovernor John Bel Edwards said Ida is expected to be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Louisiana since the 1850s.
The governor said he was urging residents across Louisiana to exercise caution as residents across the state began to evacuate.
“Although the storm will weaken after it makes landfall, it is such a strong storm at first that it will be extremely powerful as far north as Baton Rouge and even beyond,” Edwards said.
Climate change makes storms much more powerful
Hurricanes are likely to be bigger and more powerful when they form over hotter ocean water, as Ida did. Climate change is causing the sea surface temperature to rise worldwide.
“We see the effects of hurricanes increasing — due to climate change — for a myriad of reasons. They tend to hold more rain in a warmer environment,” Rhome said. “It’s stuffy in the summer [and] retains more moisture. The same goes for hurricanes. When you’re warmer, they can hold more moisture, which means you’ll get more rain or you’re more likely to have really heavy rainfall.”
In a virtual briefing on Saturday, President Biden said Americans have seen other extreme weather events in recent weeks. He also pointed to the ongoing effect of the coronavirus pandemic on relief efforts.
“Hurricane Ida is fast approaching after a tragic flood in Tennessee, Tropical Storm Henri, and you have all been part of the COVID-19 response for so many months,” the president said. “You’re overwhelmed, but you don’t show it. You’ve been incredible.”