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Hurricane Laura, forecast to hit as Category 4, poses catastrophic threat to Louisiana and Texas

Workers board up a beach-front house ahead of Hurricane Laura in Galveston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

Scott Dalton | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hurricane Laura, a major Category 3 storm, is set to hit near the Texas-Louisiana border on Thursday morning as local officials scramble to evacuate thousands of residents. 

Laura rapidly intensified into a major Category 3  storm early Wednesday and is forecast to develop into a Category 4 later in the day.

The storm’s quick intensification shocked scientists and prompted local officials to issue warnings of life-threatening storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding over eastern Texas and Louisiana.

“On the forecast track, Laura should approach the Upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts this evening and move inland near those areas tonight or Thursday morning,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Laura could bring storm surge of nearly 13 feet to the coastline as well as flash flooding and tornadoes on land. The storm battered the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Haiti over the weekend, knocking out power for more than 1 million people, collapsing some homes and killing at least 23 people. 

“I’m running out of words. Hurricane Laura is now one of the fastest-intensifying storms in recorded history in the Gulf of Mexico,” climate scientist Eric Holthaus wrote in a tweet. “Laura now poses a catastrophic, potentially historic threat to coastal Louisiana.” 

Rising ocean temperatures driven by climate change are leading to more intense and destructive hurricanes. As hurricanes like Laura strengthen more rapidly in warmer waters, states have less time to prepare storm mitigation and evacuate people from dangerous areas.  

“One thing we’ve seen in particular — with Harvey in 2017, and Florence and Michael in 2018 and now with Laura — is very rapid intensification, wherein the storm strengthens from a tropical storm to major hurricane status in less than a day,” said climate scientist Michael Mann. 

“Such rapid intensification happens over very warm waters like we’ve seen in the tropical Atlantic and Gulf in recent years, and right now large parts of the Gulf are bathtub-level hot,” Mann said. 

Leaders in Texas and Louisiana have ordered evacuations for at least 500,000 residents as the states grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Officials are encouraging evacuees to take shelter in hotels where they can self-isolate instead of evacuation centers that could be crowded. 

“Just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean Covid-19 either has or is going to leave Texas. Covid-19 is going to be in Texas throughout the course of the hurricane,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

Members of the Louisiana National guard stage near a high school before the arrival of hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 25, 2020.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

The prospect of a potentially major Category 4 hurricane has surfaced memories of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana 15 years ago, which killed at least 1,800 people and overwhelmed the state’s levees. 

Forecasters say the intensity and path that Laura is taking has certain similarities to how Hurricane Rita formed. Rita also hit Louisiana in 2005 and caused widespread destruction. 

This year’s hurricane season is on track to become one of the worst in recorded history, partly because of hotter-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. and is expected to bring 9 to 25 named storms to the U.S., with 7 to 11 of those storms to develop into hurricanes, according to forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. So far, there have been 13 named storms during the 2020 season.

Volunteers prepare sandbags for distribution to members of the community at a church parking lot in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 25, 2020.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

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