Critical Alert 

Weather: TS Laura is strengthening as it tracks northwestward in the Gulf of Mexico, early Aug. 25 after landfall in western Cuba, late Aug. 24. 

  • Alert Begins: 25 Aug 2020 11:41 AM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 30 Aug 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: Tropical Storm Laura
  • Affected Area(s): Western Cuba; far southeastern Mexico; Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast regions, US (map)
  • Projected Landfall (Date): Southwestern Louisiana or southeastern Texas, US (late Aug. 26)
  • Center of Circulation: Approximately 140 km (85 miles) northwest of the western tip of Cuba
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 55 knots (100 kph, 65 mph)

 

Summary

 

Tropical Storm Laura continues to strengthen as it tracks northwestward in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico off the coast of western Cuba, early Aug. 25, after making landfall in Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba, late Aug. 24. As of 0400 CDT, the storm's center of circulation was approximately 140 km (85 miles) northwest of the western tip of Cuba. 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, possibly reaching Category 3 hurricane strength or higher. Longer-range projections indicate there will be a landfall in the Gulf Coast region of the US - most likely in southwestern 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. The system is forecast to enter the Atlantic Ocean late Aug. 29 or early Aug. 30 where it may strengthen to a Post-Tropical Cyclone with tropical storm force winds off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic region. However, the guidance is highly varied, and there is low confidence in the forecast, especially about potential impacts in the US.

Government Advisories
As of 0400 CDT Aug. 25, the following advisories have been issued in response to the storm:

  • Hurricane Watch: San Luis Pass, Texas, to west of Morgan City, Louisiana
  • Tropical Storm Warning: Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Mayabeque, La Habana, Artemisa, Pinar del Rio provinces, and the Isle of Youth, Cuba; Dry Tortugas, Florida, US
  • Tropical Storm Watch: San Luis Pass, Texas to Freeport, Texas; Morgan City, Louisiana 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 Jefferson, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Plaquemines, Cameron, and Orleans parishes. Additionally, authorities are evacuating 300,000 people in eastern Texas in association with Marco and Laura, including Jefferson, Orange, Galveston, Chambers, and Harris counties. Further evacuations are likely along the Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Laura approaches the region. The governors of both Louisiana and Texas have issued states of emergency in anticipation of the system.

Hazardous Conditions
Tropical Storm Laura will likely bring heavy rainfall, strong winds, and rough seas to coastal areas across western Cuba through Aug. 25, and the Gulf Coast, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast regions, US, Aug. 26-30. Forecast models indicate an additional 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) of rain is possible in western Cuba. Along the Gulf Coast region of the US, widespread rainfall totals of 10-20 cm (4-8 inches) are expected, locally higher totals of 30.5 cm (12 inches) are possible in areas affected by persistent bands of thunderstorms.

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 between to 2.1-3.5 meters (7-11 feet) near where Laura makes landfall; the rest of the Gulf Coast is generally forecast to experience storm surge of 0.6-1.8 meters (2-6 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 65 knots (120 kph, 75 mph) cannot be ruled out, especially in areas near the center of circulation. Widespread and prolonged power outages due to uprooted trees and toppled utility lines are possible. Isolated tornadoes are possible across the Gulf Coast region over the coming days as Tropical Storm Laura approaches landfall.

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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