Ida strengthens into hurricane and makes landfall in Cuba

Tropical Storm Ida strengthened into a hurricane and made landfall over the Isle of Youth in Cuba on Friday as it heads toward the Gulf of Mexico this weekend.

The storm is forecast to become increasingly dangerous throughout Saturday and is expected to make landfall over the coast of Louisiana or Mississippi on Sunday evening. Ida follows just days after Tropical Storm Henri drenched the Northeast, causing an estimated $12 billion in damage.

“Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that #Ida has strengthened to a hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Tropical storm conditions are occurring on Cayo Largo, Cuba,” the National Hurricane Center tweeted Friday afternoon.

Ida could form into a major Category 3 hurricane, with 120 miles per hour sustained maximum winds, by the time it reaches the Gulf Coast on Sunday.

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina was a strong Category 3 and Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm when they made landfall over Louisiana in 2005 and Texas in 2017, respectively.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for parts of Cuba, and a hurricane watch extends from Cameron, Louisiana, to the Mississippi border of the Bayou State.

Heavy rainfall, strong winds, storm surge, and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions are expected across the Gulf Coast region. Local officials warned residents to make preparations.

The NHC forecast up to 7-foot to 11-foot storm surge from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. A storm surge of 3-5 feet is also possible in Lake Pontchartrain.

In Southeast Louisiana, rainfall totals could add up to 7-15 inches, the Weather Prediction Center said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday requested a federal declaration of emergency in advance of the storm’s arrival to the state. President Joe Biden acknowledged the request, declaring that “an emergency exists in Louisiana” and authorized federal assistance to supplement the state and local response efforts, according to a White House statement obtained by the Washington Examiner.

Edwards also declared a state of emergency on Thursday, raising serious concerns about the possibility of a major devastating weather system. “Now is the time for people to finalize their emergency game plan, which should take into account the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Edwards tweeted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast this month, acknowledging a slight increase in anticipated severe storms for the rest of the season — forecasting a 65% chance of an “above-average” season with a 70% probability of 15-21 named storms. NOAA predicted seven to 10 would become hurricanes, with three to five as major hurricanes of Category 3, 4, or 5 strength.

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