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Laura Rapidly Intensifies into Season's First Major Hurricane

National Hurricane Center

Update as of 11:30 AM:

Laura has strengthened further and has top sustained winds of 125 mph as of the 11 AM ET / 10 AM CT advisory from the National Hurricane Center. A surge of 15 to 20 feet is possible over parts of southwest Louisiana, and the surge could extend as far as 30 miles inland in places in southwest Louisiana.

Original story as of 8:15 AM:

Laura rapidly intensified Tuesday night and has now become the season’s first major hurricane — defined as a category 3 or higher storm. As of the mid-morning Wednesday update from The National Hurricane Center, top sustained winds increased to 115 mph. Additional strengthening is forecast, and Laura is expected to be a category 4 hurricane by Wednesday afternoon.

The powerful hurricane is moving toward the northwest at around 15 mph. Hurricane Warnings continued in advance of the storm from San Luis Pass, Texas to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. In particular, the Hurricane Warning includes Galveston, Beaumont, and Lake Charles. Storm Surge Warnings extend from Freeport, Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Hurricane Center forecast predicts peak surges of 10 to 15 feet above normally dry ground from the Texas-Louisiana border area to Intracoastal City in South-Central Louisiana. Surges of 2 to 5 feet are anticipated as far west as Galveston Bay and as far east as the Mississippi Gulf coast.

Laura has a large wind field, with tropical storm force winds extending 175 miles from the center of the storm, meaning that many residents of Texas and Louisiana away from the storm’s eye are likely to experience these winds tonight. Forecasters said rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches, with local amounts as high as 15 inches, are likely over western Louisiana, far eastern Texas, and northward into Arkansas through Friday. These rains were expected to cause widespread flash flooding and urban flooding. Forecasters at NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center said these flooding rains may extend as far inland as southeast Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana Friday into early Saturday morning.

Isolated tornadoes are also possible over far southeast Texas, Louisiana, and southwest Mississippi this evening and tonight, mainly to the east of where the eye crosses the coastline.

Rip currents, high surf, and rough seas are likely to present hazards to swimmers and mariners as far away as Florida’s Gulf coast because of the hurricane’s large size and intensity.

As of the early morning forecast update, Laura was anticipated to strengthen to a category 4 storm Tuesday afternoon. Upper air data and model simulations are showing an increase in wind shear in the final hours prior to landfall. This might cause a slight reduction in wind speed near the eyewall at landfall, but the effects of life-threatening surge and destructive winds would be about the same close to where the eye crosses the coastline.

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Ray Hawthorne
Megan Borowski