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Hurricane Laura slammed ashore in southwestern coastal Louisiana early Thursday with a ferocity that this region has never previously endured. The storm made landfall at 1 a.m. near Cameron, La., about 35 miles east of the Texas border.

The storm, which leaped from a Category 1 on Tuesday to a high-end Category 4 Wednesday night, packed 150 mph peak winds when it crossed the coast.

Laura struck near high tide and is predicted to inundate coastal areas of western Louisiana to the Texas border in up to 15 to 20 feet of water, perhaps the largest storm surge in the Gulf of Mexico since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The surge threat prompted a mandatory evacuation for Lake Charles, La., where much of the city of 78,000 may flood. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced that he has activated the entire Louisiana National Guard to help with hurricane response.

Laura was beginning to unleash a swath of destructive winds when it made landfall, with “catastrophic damage” expected, according to the National Hurricane Center, along with widespread power outages. Hurricane-force winds could extend well inland over western Louisiana and East Texas on Thursday morning.

Heavy rain was predicted to be widespread across the west-central Gulf Coast with five to 10 inches falling over a broad area, and locally up to 18 inches, leading to flash flooding.

The latest developments:
  • The National Weather Service issued an “extreme wind warning” from Beaumont and Port Arthur in Texas to coastal southwest Louisiana for destructive hurricane-force winds. Cameron, La., clocked a wind gust to 116 mph, while Lake Charles recorded a gust to 132 mph.
  • Laura’s rate of intensification between Tuesday and Wednesday tied for the fastest on record in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Hurricane Center said storm surge inundation could be “unsurvivable,” affecting areas up 40 miles inland from the coast in southwest Louisiana, and that floodwaters may not fully recede for several days after the storm. As of 5 a.m., a surge over nine feet had been observed in parts of coastal southwest Louisiana.
August 27, 2020 at 5:12 AM EDT
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As Hurricane Laura moves inland, heavy rains and strong wind gusts will continue

By Katie Shepherd

As Hurricane Laura continues to move north along Louisiana’s western border and into Arkansas, its wind speeds will slow, but heavy rains and strong gusts still threaten to cause damage Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

The historically powerful cyclone made landfall near Cameron, La., around 1 a.m. local time. Gusts of up to 132 mph and sustained winds of 98 mph thrashed Lake Charles, La., in the early hours of Thursday. Hurricane-force winds are expected to continue for several hours in areas of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.

“At the time of landfall, Laura was a ferocious looking hurricane with a clear circular eye, an intense eyewall, and tightly-coiled surrounding spiral bands,” the National Weather Service said in an update on the storm early Thursday.

Flooding caused by a “catastrophic” storm surge up to 40 miles inland in southwestern Louisiana may continue for several days before the displaced water fully recedes. A National Ocean Service tide station in Calcasieu Pass, La., recorded a water level rise of 9.19 feet during the storm surge.

Hurricane Laura is forecast to weaken into a tropical storm later Thursday and a tropical depression by Friday, but flash floods remain a risk as the storm produces heavy rains.

“Widespread flash flooding along small streams, urban areas, and roadways is expected across portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas,” according to the National Weather Service. “This will also lead to minor to moderate freshwater river flooding. The heavy rainfall threat and flash and urban flooding potential will spread northeastward into the middle-Mississippi, lower Ohio, Tennessee Valley, and Mid-Atlantic States Friday and Saturday.”

Eventually, the weakened storm will find its way back to the Atlantic Ocean and move on toward Canada.

August 27, 2020 at 4:00 AM EDT
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Cameron Parish, site of Hurricane Laura’s landfall, has a long history of severe storm damage

By Katie Shepherd

The northern eyewall of Hurricane Laura reached sparsely populated Cameron Parish, La., at about midnight Thursday, bringing gusts of wind as strong as 115 mph and a “catastrophic storm surge” that threatened to put most of the region under several feet of water, according to the National Weather Service.

Cameron is the second smallest parish in the state by population, in part because the southwest region has a long history of being decimated by hurricanes.

A devastating storm hit the parish on June 27, 1957, marking an early hurricane season. The cyclone brought a “massive” storm surge into Cameron and neighboring parishes, according to the National Weather Service. The storm killed at least 500 people and many residents who went missing in the hurricane were never found.

Almost 50 years later, in 2005, Hurricane Rita struck. Nearly all of the homes in Cameron Parish were destroyed, according to the Advocate. A third of the local residents who lost their homes in that storm decided not to rebuild, leaving the parish much smaller even a full decade later.

Just three years after Rita, Hurricane Ike walloped the region, flooding the coastline. Even more people decided not to return to the parish after that storm.

More than 10 years have passed since Hurricane Ike, and almost 7,000 people live in Cameron Parish now. Most residents heeded mandatory evacuation orders on Wednesday as Hurricane Laura approached, but local officials said at least 150 people remained.

The damage Hurricane Laura is expected to wreak will probably be calamitous for Cameron Parish. On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said he had heard reports that the storm would leave the region severely flooded.

“They’re thinking Cameron parish is going to look like an extension of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days,” Edwards said Wednesday.

August 27, 2020 at 3:15 AM EDT
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Heavy winds hit Lake Charles, with gusts of 128 mph

By Katie Shepherd

As historically powerful Hurricane Laura barreled north, heavy winds reached Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana, bending trees and blowing rain in horizontal sheets as the eyewall approached the first major city impacted by the Category 4 storm.

A wind gust of 128 mph was reported around 1:20 a.m. as the eye of the storm approached the city. More than 225,000 people live in Lake Charles and the surrounding metropolitan area, which also includes Jennings, La. The National Weather Service reported sustained winds of 85 mph in Lake Charles around 1:20 a.m.

The National Weather Service said the hurricane was moving north at about 15 mph. The storm’s path is projected to follow the west border of Louisiana, as Hurricane Laura moves north toward Arkansas.

August 27, 2020 at 3:00 AM EDT
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Louisiana National Guard warns people sheltered in attics: ‘You may have to cut your way out’

By Katie Shepherd

Despite mandatory evacuation orders, at least 150 people refused to leave their homes in Cameron Parish, La., where Hurricane Laura is expected to make landfall in the early morning hours of Thursday, officials said.

Those who decided to wait out the storm might be forced to retreat to the top floors and attics of their homes, as floodwaters will likely rush into buildings in the storm’s path. The Louisiana National Guard suggested bringing tools, like an ax or sledgehammer, into the attic space where they may be trapped by flooding caused by the “unsurvivable” storm surge.

“For those folks that are staying at home or staying in some other location, it’s imperative to come up with a contingency plan right there on-site,” Louisiana National Guard Brigadier General Keith Waddell told The Weather Channel on Wednesday evening. “If you do need to get to higher ground, you may want to consider tools in the event that you have to get in your attic, and you may have to cut your way out of there before we can get to you the next day.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) told Fox News that he expects emergency personnel to perform a “large number” of search-and-rescue missions on Thursday after the storm has passed.

“Much of our state is in the path of #HurricaneLaura tonight,” Edwards said in a tweet late Wednesday as the hurricane approached the Louisiana coast. “This is a time for all of us to be praying for the best, while we’re prepared for the worst. God bless you and your families. Be safe tonight.”

August 27, 2020 at 2:21 AM EDT
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Laura makes historic landfall in Cameron, La., as Category 4

By Jason Samenow

The National Hurricane Center declared at 2 a.m. Eastern time (1 a.m. Central time) that Laura came ashore near Cameron, La., packing 150 mph maximum sustained winds.

At the time of landfall, the storm was moving due north at 15 mph with a minimum pressure of 938 millibars.

Laura becomes the strongest storm on record to make landfall in southwest Louisiana, according to Phil Klotzbach, hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, and is the lone Category 4 storm to strike there.

Klotzbach noted its minimum pressure of 938 millibars ranked as the fourth-lowest on record in the state of Louisiana. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

Laura is the strongest storm, by wind speed, to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856, Klotzbach tweeted. These peak winds of 150 mph also rank among the top 10 among all hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States.

Laura becomes the seventh storm to make landfall in the continental United States so far in 2020, the most on record by the end of the August.

The other storms to make landfall in the continental United States so far in 2020 are:

August 27, 2020 at 1:48 AM EDT
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Storm surge tops 8 feet along Louisiana coast, flooding underway

By Jason Samenow

As Laura begins to move ashore, it is pushing an enormous amount of water inland. The tide gauge at Calcasieu Pass, along the coast in southwest Louisiana, near Cameron, showed a storm surge of 8 feet and rising at 1 a.m. Thursday (midnight local time).

This same location also recorded a 127 mph wind gust.

The National Hurricane Center had predicted the surge could peak in some areas as high as 15 to 20 feet above normally dry land, which would cause “life-threatening” inundation.

Photos from social media showed significant coastal flooding underway.

August 27, 2020 at 1:29 AM EDT
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Scenes from Lake Charles, La., as core of Hurricane Laura arrives

By Jason Samenow

Even before the most destructive part of Hurricane Laura arrived in Lake Charles, winds were starting to gust over 70 mph amid blinding sheets of rain. The storm’s most extreme winds should arrive just after 2 a.m. (1 a.m. local time).

Here are some scenes from Lake Charles from social media:

August 27, 2020 at 1:11 AM EDT
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Storm’s most serious phase begins. Winds gust to 115 mph in coastal Louisiana.

By Jason Samenow

The core of Hurricane Laura is starting to move ashore where you find its most destructive strongest winds and heaviest rains. Of particular concern is the eyewall, which is the zone of extreme winds surrounding the storm center, which was moving inland as of about 12:35 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

Locations that experience eyewall winds, areas within 15 miles or so of where the center tracks, could see destructive gusts over 130 mph, especially right along the coast. An “extreme wind warning” was issued for this zone just before midnight.

The National Hurricane Center urged residents to treat these extreme winds like a tornado.

“The safest place to be during a major landfalling hurricane is in a reinforced interior room away from windows,” it wrote. “Get under a table or other piece of sturdy furniture. Use mattresses, blankets or pillows to cover your head and body.”

As the eyewall crossed Cameron, La., winds were sustained at 88 mph with gusts to 115 mph. Lake Charles, La., where the eyewall hadn’t even reached, recorded a gust of 72 mph before 1 a.m.

In addition to the winds, the storm will unload extremely heavy rainfall, especially within about 75 miles of where the center tracks. The National Weather Service issued a special bulletin warning rainfall rates of 3 to 4 inches per hour were possible. “Isolated totals of 7-9 [inches] and flash flooding, significant in places, is likely” through 5 a.m., the Weather Service wrote in a special bulletin.

Heavy thunderstorms embedded within Laura’s core may also spawn tornadoes, and several tornado warnings are active in southern Louisiana as of 12:35 a.m.

August 27, 2020 at 12:06 AM EDT
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Warning issued for ‘extreme,’ destructive winds issued for southwestern Louisiana, southeastern Texas

By Matthew Cappucci and Andrew Freedman

A rare “Extreme Wind Warning” was issued overnight for several parishes in southwestern Louisiana as well as parts of extreme southeastern Texas until 2 a.m. Eastern time as the eyewall of Hurricane Laura moves ashore. Locations covered by the alert include Beaumont, Lake Charles, Port Arthur, Sulphur, Orange, Nederland, Groves, Port Neches, Lumberton and Vidor.

The alert, a last-ditch call to action for those who did not evacuate to seek shelter, is issued only when a major hurricane is making landfall and sustained winds will exceed 115 mph.

“Take cover now!” stated the warning. “Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to the safe room in your shelter.”

“Take action now to protect your life!” the warning advised.

The warnings, which urge similar protective actions as tornado warnings, also trigger wireless emergency alerts to cellphones.

The onset of extreme eyewall winds may occur abruptly, arriving in a matter of minutes.

Only eight extreme wind warnings had ever been issued before Laura’s landfall, most recently on Oct. 10, 2018, as Category 5 Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend.

The eyewall is the most dangerous part of a hurricane. That’s where the most extreme winds, which can also include tornado-like vortices that produce narrow swaths of localized destruction, are found.

The concept behind the extreme wind warning was born out of necessity, when the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Fla., issued souped-up tornado warnings for the eyewalls of Hurricanes Charley and Jeanne in 2004. The same practice was implemented during Katrina. It was later decided that eyewall winds merited their own special warning.

Those in an eyewall wind warning should take care to shelter in an interior, low location that is not susceptible to storm surge flooding. The risk of coastal inundation and surge, as well as freshwater flooding, complicates the process of escaping extreme winds.

August 26, 2020 at 11:40 PM EDT
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Hurricane Center says Laura has stopped intensifying, just shy of Category 5

By Andrew Freedman

Hurricane Laura remains a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. Its extraordinary period of rapid intensification appears to have come to an end, with the storm leveling off in intensity just 7 mph below Category 5 intensity shortly before landfall.

  • It’s too late for southwestern Louisiana to avoid what the National Hurricane Center warns will be a “catastrophic” 15-to-20-foot storm surge that may sweep water 40 miles inland, swelling the marshes, bayous and connected small waterways in the region, with water spilling into communities and onto roadways.
  • Especially vulnerable areas include Cameron, La., which will be at or near the landfall location when the eye of the storm comes ashore early Thursday, and Lake Charles, a city of about 78,000 that was placed under a mandatory evacuation on Wednesday.

In an 11 p.m. Eastern technical discussion posted online, Hurricane Center forecasters took pains to emphasize just how strong a storm this is and how unique it is for the region.

“Extremely dangerous Laura has the signature of a classic hurricane on satellite images, with a well-defined eye surrounded by very deep convection,” forecasters wrote. Note: Whenever meteorologists say something has taken on a textbook-like or signature appearance, it is not good news.

  • Hurricane-force winds are expected well inland from the point of landfall, with a lengthy corridor of wind damage comparable to a tornado strike stretching northward by about 100 miles.
  • The biggest potential killer, and biggest story, in this storm will be the surge, given the topography of the area the storm is hitting, and the unprecedented surge heights forecast in this region.
  • Two Hurricane Hunter aircraft, one from the Air Force and a NOAA research plane nicknamed “Kermit,” have been crisscrossing the storm in the hours before landfall to gather data that satellites and ground-based instruments cannot. The information indicates that surface winds in the storm are steady, and no further intensification is likely.
  • However, neither is meaningful weakening, at least not until after the storm has crossed land and is deprived of its main energy source.
August 26, 2020 at 11:00 PM EDT
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Tracking Hurricane Laura

By Jason Samenow

Hurricane Laura is dashing toward coastal Texas and Louisiana and forecast to make landfall overnight Wednesday into early Thursday. Its progress can be tracked on the above interactive map.

As of 11 p.m. Wednesday Eastern time, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, unchanged from the 8 p.m. advisory. This makes it a strong Category 4 hurricane. It was centered 75 miles south of Lake Charles, La., moving northwest at 15 mph.

August 26, 2020 at 10:50 PM EDT
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Coronavirus complicates plans to evacuate, shelter

By Meryl Kornfield

Plans for hurricane evacuations amid the coronavirus pandemic hit roadblocks as social distancing limited shelters in Texas and Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Laura’s landfall.

Officials in coastal states most affected by the hurricane season have had months to prepare for the summer’s storms. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced shelters and buses would be stocked with hand sanitizer and face masks and shelters would be spaced appropriately.

Abbott also said 200,000 hotel rooms would shelter evacuees from Southeast Texas, effectively isolating groups rather than gathering people in a large shelter.

But with limited space to social distance, capacity for shelter ran out in some areas.

In Austin, one of the city’s largest shelters, Circuit of the Americas, became a reception area for people to get vouchers for hotel rooms. It hit capacity at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and reopened as a rest area later in the morning. Austin filled 1,078 hotel rooms with about 3,000 people, according to the city.

Galveston also ran out of hotel vouchers for evacuees, according to the Texas Tribune.

Despite the pandemic restrictions, officials said people in mandatory evacuation zones should flee before winds pick up Wednesday evening.

“If you do not get out of the way of this storm, there will be no ability for rescuers or aiders to get in and assist you in any way,” Abbott said.

August 26, 2020 at 10:05 PM EDT
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Wind and rain ramp up in coastal Louisiana as seas rise several feet and a tornado warning is issued

By Jason Samenow

Laura’s first major and potent rain band has moved ashore in southern Louisiana, where winds are howling and a tornado warning covers a lengthy section of coastline.

A wind gust of 67 mph was recently clocked in South Marsh, La., an island just off the coast about equidistant between Lake Charles and Grand Isle.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning until 10:15 p.m. Eastern time along the coast in southeastern Cameron Parish and southwestern Vermillion Parish due to intense thunderstorms embedded within this rain band, “capable of producing tornadoes.”

Meanwhile, seas were rapidly rising and the water level at a tide gauge about 100 miles southeast of Lake Charles had already risen nearly four feet above flood stage.

At 10 p.m., the center of Laura was centered about 90 miles south of Lake Charles, moving north-northwest at 15 mph. Radar showed the storm’s eyewall, the zone of intense thunderstorms and extreme winds surrounding its center, was about 50 to 60 miles offshore. It is likely to move onshore between midnight and 1 a.m. Thursday.

August 26, 2020 at 9:31 PM EDT
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Hurricane Laura’s eyewall is crackling with lightning, a sign of an extreme storm

By Matthew Cappucci

Hurricane Laura’s eyewall was crackling with lightning activity Wednesday evening as its center was just tens of miles from landfall in western Louisiana.

For a brief time, lightning discharges were detected by satellite and ground-based instruments along the entire periphery of the eyewall, which is the area of towering thunderstorms surrounding the eye. These storms contain the hurricane’s fiercest wind and heaviest rain.

The “enveloped eyewall lightning” signature is an indicator to meteorologists of a storm that is strengthening. Aircraft reconnaissance indicated the storm was continuing to intensify late Wednesday, with winds of 160 mph detected at 10,000 feet and barometric pressure plummeting at an unrelenting pace. It was on the fringe of Category 5 status.

Hurricane Dorian last year also exhibited an enveloped eyewall lightning signature shortly before its assault on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas on Sept. 1. Eyewall lightning is usually associated with rapidly intensifying storms.

Rapid intensification occurs when a hurricane’s maximum sustained winds strengthen by at least 35 mph in 24 hours. In the case of Hurricane Laura, the storm tied for the fastest intensification rate on record in the Gulf of Mexico, matching Hurricane Karl in 2010, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. The storm vaulted from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in just 24 hours.

On Wednesday morning, its speed of strengthening was five to seven times as fast as what gets classified as “bombogenesis” in winter storms.