- Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana as a Category 4 storm at 1 a.m. CT on Thursday morning. It’s now a tropical storm moving toward Arkansas, with winds of 50 mph.
- Falling trees have killed at least four people in Louisiana, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards. The storm killed 23 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
- More than 830,000 households lost power in Louisiana and Texas.
- Some people who did not evacuate were trapped, with flooding and other damage preventing rescuers from reaching them.
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Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, early Thursday morning as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds of 150 mph.
That makes it the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856, according to an analysis by Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.
Laura has since weakened to a tropical storm, but forecasters continue to warn of flooding, rainfall, and forceful winds as the storm nears Arkansas.
At least four people have died because of falling trees, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a Thursday briefing. One,a 14-year-old girl, died when a tree hit her home, according to the Associated Press. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’s received reports of one death but is still working to confirm that information, according to KXAN-TV.
Laura’s eye moved ashore at 1 a.m. CT and is now about 80 miles northeast of Shreveport, heading towards Little Rock, Arkansas. Its maximum wind speeds have slowed to 50 mph, and it is moving northeast at 15 mph.
TROPICAL UPDATE: @NOAA's #GOES16????️ is showing the last 8 hours of #HurricaneLaura's path through Louisiana with its infrared band, which provides critical information about hurricanes at nighttime as well as day. Get the latest on #Laura here: https://t.co/VTAp4gGkHs #LAwx https://t.co/pwpsZKE3hY pic.twitter.com/9C7ZRl6wnV
— NOAA Satellites – Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) August 27, 2020
Some people near the coast who did not evacuate have been stranded. Flooding and damage to power lines and other infrastructure mean rescuers may struggle to reach them. Tony Guillory, president of Calcasieu Parish’s police jury, told the AP that people were “calling the building but there ain’t no way to get to them.”
More than 845,000 households across Louisiana and Texas have lost power, according to PowerOutage.us.
The National Hurricane Centre expects Laura to weaken into a tropical depression by Thursday evening. Before the storm hit, the centre warned of “extreme” winds and “unsurvivable” storm surge of up to 20 feet, though the water doesn’t seem to have reached that height. All storm surge warnings have been discontinued; however, the NHC is still warning of widespread flash and urban floods. Up to 7 inches of rain could fall in central and eastern Arkansas.
A risk of tornadoes also persists across central and eastern Arkansas and Mississippi.
NEW: NOAA's GOES-16 ????️captured the landfall of #HurricaneLaura at 1 a.m. CDT in southwest #Louisiana near Cameron. The category 4 #hurricane packed maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and a minimum central pressure of 938 mb. Updates: https://t.co/bf9oyNUeIP pic.twitter.com/WjJM4EIyq3
— NOAA Satellites – Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) August 27, 2020
Before reaching the US, Laura killed 20 people in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic as a tropical storm. Then it rapidly intensified on Tuesday and Wednesday as it approached the US, strengthening to Category 4 from Category 1 in a single day.
Meteorologist Reed Timmer shared video footage from Lake Charles, about 50 miles north of Cameron, early Thursday morning:
— Reed Timmer (@ReedTimmerAccu) August 27, 2020
Stephanie Abrams, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, offered an update on the storm while fighting through rain and wind:
LIVE in Lake Charles, LA, @StephanieAbrams highlights the severity of going through not only the first eye wall, but the second as well.
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) August 27, 2020
The storm is expected to move over the Mississippi Valley on Friday and over mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.
The governors of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida all declared states of emergency ahead of the storm’s landfall.
Laura arrived almost exactly 15 years after Hurricane Katrina – Saturday marks the anniversary of that storm.
Hundreds of thousands of evacuation orders
The below video loop, taken by satellite, showed the storm Wednesday as it neared the Gulf Coast.
More than half a million people were ordered to evacuate. In Texas, the orders affect more than 385,000 residents, the Associated Press reported, while an additional 200,000 people in Louisiana’s Calcasieu parishes were told to leave as well.
The pandemic complicates evacuations, so Texas officials asked people to hunker down with relatives or in hotel rooms to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Buses carried disinfectant and personal protective equipment and transport fewer passengers than normal, the AP reported, so people can maintain social distance.
This Atlantic hurricane season has produced storms faster than ever
So far this year, the Atlantic Ocean has produced a record 13 named storms in just three months. The 11th named storm doesn’t normally form until November 23, but this year Tropical Storm Kyle appeared on August 14. The National Hurricane Centre doesn’t even offer an average date for the 12th or 13th named storms (that’s Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco this year), since there are rarely that many in one season.
Overall for 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an “extremely active” hurricane season, with 19 to 25 named storms – the first time in NOAA’s history the number would be that high. The forecast includes seven to 11 hurricanes, with three to six reaching Category 3 or higher, which is considered “major.”
“This is one of the most active seasonal forecasts that NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a press release. “We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant, and being ready to take action when necessary.”
An average season sees roughly six hurricanes, with three becoming major. But the Atlantic Ocean has been producing highly active hurricane seasons since 1995, according to NOAA.
In 2019 – when Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas in one of the most powerful Atlantic landfalls on record – the Atlantic produced 18 named storms. But Dorian was only that year’s fourth named storm when it formed on August 24.
Climate change is making hurricanes stronger, slower, and wetter
Storms are getting stronger on average because climate change is causing ocean and air temperatures to climb – 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, and it closed the hottest decade ever recorded.
Hurricanes feed on warm water, and higher water temperatures also lead to sea-level rise, which increases the risk of flooding. Warmer air, meanwhile, holds more atmospheric water vapour, which helps tropical storms strengthen and unleash more precipitation.
Overall, the chances of any tropical cyclone becoming a major hurricane are increasing, according to a recent study based on satellite data. The findings showed that each new decade over the past 40 years had brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm would turn into a major hurricane.
“We have a significantly building body of evidence that these storms have already changed in very substantial ways, and all of them are dangerous,” James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post.
A 2013 study also found that for each degree the planet warmed over the previous 40 years, the proportion of Category 4 and 5 storms – the strongest hurricanes – increased by 25% to 30%.
“Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes,” Kossin told CNN. “Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk.”
Storms are also getting more sluggish: Over the past 70 years or so, hurricanes and tropical storms have slowed about 10% on average, a 2018 study found. That gives a hurricane more time to do damage in a given area.