New Orleans Facing Monster Storm In Countdown to Landfall
(Bloomberg) -- New Orleans is bracing for disaster as hospitals clear wards, oil refineries shut units and public officials warn residents of low-lying neighborhoods to flee.
Hurricane Ida slammed into Cuba Friday night as it barrels north toward the U.S. Gulf Coast with winds that are ultimately expected to reach 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour and a wall of water that may reach 15 feet in height.
The city of New Orleans is asking residents to evacuate as soon as possible or prepare to shelter in place Saturday evening, according to a text alert sent late Friday. The storm could damage close to 1 million homes along the U.S. Gulf Coast if it intensifies as forecast, with potential reconstruction costs estimated to exceed $220 billion, according to CoreLogic.
With gales strong enough to destroy dwellings and knock out power for an extended period, areas that suffer a direct hit could be “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
There’s little in Ida’s way to stop it from ramping up to the second-most destructive category of storm given the deep eddy of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) sea water that it will traverse before it roars ashore late Sunday or early Monday, said Todd Crawford, director of meteorology at commercial forecaster Atmospheric G2. Warm water is like fuel to tropical cyclones.
“In an unfortunate case of very bad luck, the expected track of Ida will take it directly over an usually warm pool of water in the northern Gulf on Sunday, which is the primary reason for rapid intensification,” Crawford said. “Given the ideal environment for strengthening it is not out of the question that Ida will touch Category 5 status at some point Sunday.”
Ida made landfall in the Cuban province of Pinar Del Rio shortly before 7:30 p.m. local time, with winds of 80 mph. It then entered the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to hit New Orleans on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history.
The storm’s top winds could reach 140 mph, the hurricane center said in its most recent forecast. New Orleans and other imperiled communities such as Jefferson Parish have already started telling some residents to flee.
Louisiana Children’s Medical Center is sending home some patients and will put its six New Orleans-area hospitals into lockdown Sunday morning. On its current track, the storm could cause as much as $25 billion in damage and losses, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. It will be the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. so far this year.
Oil and gas prices gained as energy companies shuttered facilities and evacuated workers. Sunday will be 16 years to the day since Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans as a major hurricane.
“Sunday is the anniversary of Katrina -- it seems like a particularly cruel date for a hurricane landfall in Louisiana,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger LLC.
A hurricane warning was posted for the much of Louisiana’s coast, including New Orleans, the center said. Ida could push a surge of ocean water 10 to 15 feet above normal from Morgan City to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and lesser amounts all the way to Mobile Bay.
Some levees outside of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System could be over topped by the flooding waters. About half of all hurricane deaths are due to flooding.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Louisiana. New Orleans, often referred to as NOLA, is below sea level and depends on levees and pumps to keep the ocean and river out.
“NOLA is always a place that things can go wrong quickly and badly,” said Enki Research’s Watson.
Even if the levee system holds and keeps the surge at bay, New Orleans could face a major flood risk from the rain alone, Truchelut said. The city has had one of its wettest years so far, with heavy rain expected there could be widespread flooding.
Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed about 2,500 people to Louisiana and states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Urban Search and Rescue teams are being sent to Louisiana, it added, with other teams on alert.
Five storms have already hit the U.S. this year as climate change fuels extreme weather around the globe. Wildfires are threatening Lake Tahoe, California, and have forced the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to close for the first time since 1976. Blazes are raging across southern Europe; flooding and mudslides killed at least 20 people this week in Venezuela.
Tropical systems can bring more rain because with every 1 degree Celsius the world warms the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture.
U.S. Gulf of Mexico Oil Producers Shut Assets as Ida Nears
Oil explorers are bracing for the storm and have already halted the equivalent of more than 1.2 million barrels of daily crude production. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and others are shutting offshore platforms and evacuating crews.
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The Gulf is home to 16% of U.S. crude production, 2% of its natural gas output, and 48% of the nation’s refining capacity. Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29, 2005 as a major hurricane, and the storm went on to cause massive flooding in New Orleans that devastated the city and killed at least 1,800 people.
After Ida comes ashore, it could flood cotton, corn, soybean and sugarcane crops, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Maxar. The hurricane center is also tracking two other weather systems: one east of Bermuda has a 50% chance of becoming a storm in the next two days, and another between Africa and the Caribbean that has a 60% chance.
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