Critical Alert

Weather: Tropical Storm Laura to make landfall in northwestern Cuba, late Aug. 24 before entering Gulf of Mexico and strengthening into hurricane.

  • Alert Begins: 24 Aug 2020 10:16 PM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 29 Aug 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: Tropical Storm Laura
  • Affected Area(s): Cuba; Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, and Ohio Valley regions, US (map)
  • Projected Landfall (Date): Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba (late Aug. 24); southwestern Louisiana or southeastern Texas, US (late Aug. 26)
  • Center of Circulation: Approximately 163 km (101 miles) south-southeast of Havana, Cuba
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 50 knots (90 kph, 60 mph)

 

Summary

Tropical Storm Laura is tracking northwestward in the northern Caribbean Sea off the coast of southwestern Cuba, Aug. 24, after crossing Hispaniola and eastern Cuba, Aug. 23. As of 1700 EDT, the storm's center of circulation was approximately 163 km (101 miles) south-southeast of Havana. Tropical Storm Laura is forecast to make landfall in Pinar del Rio Province late Aug. 24 before the system tracks toward the Gulf of Mexico. As Tropical Storm Laura enters the open, warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it will reach an environment conducive to rapid strengthening and is forecast to become a hurricane, likely reaching Category-2 hurricane strength or higher. Longer-range projections indicate there will be a landfall in the Gulf Coast region of the US - most likely in western Louisiana or southeastern Texas - late Aug. 26 or early Aug. 27. Following this possible landfall, long-range projections have the system tracking northward, weakening to a tropical storm before veering eastward as the system continues to lose strength over the eastern US. However, the guidance is highly varied and the forecast is low confidence especially with regard to potential impacts in the US. Significant uncertainty remains in the track and intensity forecast, and changes are likely to occur in the coming days.

Government Advisories
As of 1700 EDT Aug. 24, the following advisories have been issued in response to the storm:

 

  • Hurricane Watch: Port Bolivar, Texas, to west of Morgan City, Louisiana

 

  • Tropical Storm Warning: Cuban provinces of Ciego De Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Mayabeque, La Habana, Artemisa, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth; Florida Keys from Craig Key to Key West; Dry Tortugas

 

  • Tropical Storm Watch: South of Port Bolivar to San Luis Pass, Texas; Morgan City to the Mouth of the Mississippi River

 

  • Storm Surge Watch: San Luis Pass, Texas to Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Borgne

 


Authorities will likely issue new warnings or update existing advisories throughout the system's progression in the coming days. Weather warnings could remain active even after the system's immediate threat has diminished, as some areas may still be highly susceptible to rain-induced hazards. In response to Tropical Storm Laura and Tropical Storm Marco, currently in the Gulf of Mexico, authorities in Louisiana have issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for portions of Cameron, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Jean Lafitte and Barataria, Terrebonne, and Orleans parishes in the US. Further evacuations are likely along the Gulf Coast as Laura approaches the region..

Hazardous Conditions
Tropical Storm Laura will likely bring heavy rainfall, strong winds, and rough seas to coastal areas across the Caribbean and southern Florida, US through Aug. 25, and the Gulf Coast, Ohio Valley, and Tennessee Valley regions, US, Aug. 26-29. Forecast models indicate 10-20 cm (4-8 inches) of rain are likely in western Cuba with locally higher totals of up to 30 cm (12 inches) possible in higher elevations. Much lower amounts are expected in the Florida Keys region of the US, as they are forecast to receive between 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches). Along the Gulf Coast region of the US, widespread rainfall totals of 10-25 cm (4-10 inches) are expected near where Tropical Storm Laura is forecast to make landfall.

Sustained heavy rainfall could trigger flooding in low-lying communities near streams, creeks, and rivers, as well as in urban areas with easily overwhelmed or a lack of stormwater drainage systems. Sites located downstream of large reservoirs could experience flash flooding after relatively short periods of intense rainfall. Rain-induced landslides cannot be discounted in steeply sloped terrains. Flooding could isolate some communities for several days. Prolonged swells and storm surge generated by the system will likely result in coastal flooding as the system tracks close to land. Persistent onshore flow could make it difficult for surge to recede and for water levels to decrease in coastal river catchments. Storm surge is forecast to be up to 3.5 meters (11 feet) near where Laura makes landfall; the rest of the Gulf Coast is generally forecast to experience surge of 1.2-1.8 meters (4-6 feet).

In addition to the heavy rain, flooding, rough surf, and storm surge, Tropical Storm Laura could produce damaging wind gusts. Gusts in excess of 50 knots (90 kph, 60 mph) cannot be ruled out in western Cuba near where Laura makes landfall, while hurricane-force gusts are likely along the Gulf Coast. Widespread and prolonged power outages due to uprooted trees and toppled utility lines are possible. Isolated tornadoes are possible across the Florida Keys through at least late Aug. 24.

Transport
In addition to the immediate threat to personal safety, inclement weather associated with the storm could trigger localized business, transport, and utility disruptions. Floodwaters and debris flows may render some bridges, rail networks, or roadways impassable, impacting overland travel in and around affected areas. Areal flooding in urban locations could also result in severe traffic congestion, while strong winds will pose a hazard to high-profile vehicles. Heavy rain and low visibility may trigger flight disruptions at regional airports. Disruptions triggered by inclement weather and resultant hazards, such as flooding, could persist well after conditions have improved. If there is severe damage to infrastructure, repair or reconstruction efforts may exacerbate residual disruptions.

 

Advice

Activate contingency plans in areas where officials forecast tropical storm conditions. Heed all evacuation orders. Use extreme caution in low-lying coastal areas and near streams, creeks, and other waterways due to the high potential for severe flooding and storm surge. Stockpile water, batteries, and other essentials in advance. Charge battery-powered devices when electricity is available; restrict the use of cellular phones to emergencies only. Power down mobile devices when not in use. Keep important documents in waterproof containers. Observe strict food and water precautions, as municipalities could issue boil-water advisories following flooding events. Take precautions against insect- and waterborne diseases in the coming weeks. Keep any necessary medications in a waterproof container.

Plan accordingly for protracted commercial, transport, and logistics disruptions in areas in the path of the storm, especially if vital infrastructure is damaged. Seek updated information on road conditions before driving or routing shipments through areas where flooding has occurred. Confirm flights before checking out of hotels or driving to the airport; clearing passenger backlogs may take several days in some locations.

 

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