Marco Weakens To Tropical Storm; Landfall Expected Midday

Aug 21, 2020
Originally published on August 24, 2020 10:42 am

Hurricane watches and warnings have ended for Louisiana as Marco weakened to a tropical storm overnight, according to an update from the National Weather Service.  But the storm system is still expected to bring heavy rain, gusty winds, and a potentially dangerous storm surge in areas. 

8:15 a.m. Monday

Tropical Storm Marco, which weakened from a hurricane, is expected to make landfall in Louisiana around midday.  Much of southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, remains under a tropical storm warning. 

"Gusty winds, dangerous storm surge, and heavy rainfall are expected from Marco along portions of the Gulf Coast beginning later today," the National Weather Service reported in its 4 a.m. update. 

Tropical Storm Laura is expected to hit Louisiana on Wedneday,  likely as a hurricane. 

7 p.m. Sunday

Tropical storm Laura, which is expected to make landfall late Tuesday night as a Category 2 hurricane, could strengthen to a Category 3, according to an update from the National Weather Service.

The last time Louisiana experienced a Category 3 storm was when Hurricane Rita struck near the Texas and Louisiana border in 2005, a month after Hurricane Katrina. Rita was one of the costliest hurricanes in terms of damages, but had a low death toll due to widespread evacuations.

“We don’t remind you of Rita and Category 3 storms in an attempt to try and scare anybody,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a press conference Sunday night. “But we want people to take this seriously and get prepared.”

Edwards said “tremendous progress” has been made in terms of risk reduction systems, levees and other flood protections since the devastation of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, but that doesn’t mean Louisianans should let their guard down.

Marco is still expected to hit as a Category 1 hurricane, but its trajectory has changed slightly. It is expected to make landfall around the mouth of the Mississippi River and then make a hard westward turn before moving along the coast.

“We’re going to get basically a right hook from Marco and then a left hook from Laura,” Edwards said.

In some areas along the mouth of the Mississippi River, rain and wind from Marco has already reached the shore. Almost all of southeastern Louisiana is under a storm surge warning and could experience 3 to 5 feet or 4 to 6 feet of storm surge depending on the location, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott.

Schott said the key takeaway is that folks understand they cannot drive in the water.

“If it's at nighttime, you'll have no understanding if the roadway is still even there,” Schott said. “That is one of the number one killers when it comes to heavy rain and flash flooding in these events, is people driving in the water.”

Laura may hit Plaquemines Parish and the far southeastern portions of Louisiana as early as Tuesday night, Schott said, though the storm’s effects will largely be felt early Wednesday morning. Marco is expected to leave the state on Tuesday evening.

“It's possible that you'll have two tropical systems basically within the same space over the course of about 48 hours, which can create a multiplying effect when it comes to impacts and damage,” Schott said.

According to Schott, the worst case scenario is that the two storms create more than 10 feet in storm surge along the southwest Louisiana coastline.

Schott emphasized that just because a storm map doesn’t show your area within the cone of impact doesn’t mean you won’t experience the effects of either storm, especially Laura, which is both large and strong.

That means water could get pushed off the rivers up to 30 miles inland, so that areas that aren’t along the coast could still see storm surge and flooding.

“Impacts from it can be seen many, many miles outside of that where the heavy rain, flooding, tornadoes, all of that is going to happen, and especially more likely on the eastern side of that cone,” Schott said. “Impacts can be miles away from that area and maybe even 50 to 100 miles away.”

Edwards also said that the state’s request for a federal disaster declaration had been approved by President Trump and that the two spoke by phone earlier today. The declaration allows Louisiana to access federal resources if needed, including emergency protective measures and evacuation and shelter support.

The governor’s next hurricane briefing is scheduled for 11:30 am. Monday.

1 p.m. Sunday

Marco is expected to hit the state’s coastline as a Category 1 hurricane with top winds of 75 mph by 7 p.m. Monday, while Laura is expected to make landfall at the Louisiana-Texas border as a Category 2 hurricane with top winds of 100 mph early Thursday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards referred to the consecutive storms as a “one-two punch” and urged Louisianans to ready themselves. 

“You need to be prepared to ride out the storms wherever you are at dark tonight,” Edwards said at a press conference Sunday.

That’s because tropical-storm-force winds will begin impacting coastal Louisiana before daylight tomorrow.

“The first 72 hours is on you,” Edwards said, warning that if Laura makes landfall in rapid succession with Marco there may not be a window where teams can perform search and rescue and utility companies can restore power.

Edwards declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on Friday and has requested a federal disaster declaration that is currently awaiting White House approval. Seventeen parishes have issued parish emergency declarations and another 17 or so are expected to do the same.

National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott provided a storm update following the governor’s remarks. He urged people not to get “fixated” on Marco’s status as a Category 1 hurricane.

“We always hear the phrase, ‘It's just a Category 1,’ Schott said. “Unfortunately, Category 1, hurricanes still put a lot of people at risk to not only lose their property but also their lives.”

Schott said that while the wind from Marco may not be the greatest threat, rainfall in southeast Louisiana could result in flash floods and other dangerous conditions for anyone trying to travel after the storm makes landfall.

He also warned of coastal flooding, isolated tornadoes, and storm surge. Schott said the storm surge for most of the area from the West Bank of the Mississippi to the west will be somewhere in the 3 to 6 foot range. The East Bank and across up towards Lake Pontchartrain could see a similar range as well.

Marco should cross into Texas around Tuesday evening, Schott said. The early effects of Hurricane Laura are expected to reach the southern coast of Louisiana at approximately the same time.

Laura will bring greater wind threats than Marco since it’s expected to make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane. Storm surge along southern Louisiana could be as high as 7 to 10 feet.

“A lot of places that see significant flooding in these situations will only be compounded by the second storm surge and the second wave of water that will be coming in with Laura,” Schott said.

Schott also warned of the possibility of heavy rainfall. Both Marco and Laura could bring 5 to 10 inches of rain. If rain bands overlap, south-central portions of the state could see 1 to 2 feet of rain.

Edwards said there’s uncertainty as to how the two storms will interact, given that there has never been a need to model two storms in the same area at the same time. Things could be better or worse than projected.

“We know that that water is not going to recede hardly at all before Laura hits,” Edwards said. “We've not seen this before. And that's why people need to be paying particular attention.”

Hurricane Preparedness And COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on hurricane preparations particularly evacuation measures. The state has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stage a large number of both school and coach buses to account for new capacity limits due to COVID-19.

Edwards said shelters will be opened as a last resort, instead the state has secured hotel space if families need to evacuate. If shelters are opened, temperature checks will be in effect and facilities will have reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.

Families are encouraged to add face masks, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants to their emergency kits if possible.

Louisiana did not release new COVID-19 data on Saturday and instead released two days’ worth of data on Sunday. Edwards reported 59 new deaths from COVID-19 and 1,200 new cases.

COVID-19 testing will be suspended at community-based testing sites on Monday and Tuesday.

“We still have a lot of COVID-19 in Louisiana, tens of thousands of cases across the state and as many as half of which are completely asymptomatic,” Edwards said. “That makes this a very difficult emergency to manage without having a natural disaster on top of it. So please protect yourself and your family to the maximum degree possible.”

Edwards is expected to provide another hurricane update Sunday at 6 p.m.

10 a.m. Sunday

Plaquemines Parish has issued a mandatory evacuation for the entire east bank of the parish, and parts of the west bank ahead of Tropical Storm Marco.

The evacuation order, which goes into effect Sunday at noon, also includes the lower portion of the west bank from the Phillips 66 refinery to Venice.

Marco is currently located in the Central Gulf of Mexico and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane later today. It’s forecast to make landfall Monday.

Jefferson Parish

A mandatory evacuation has also been issued for Grand Isle, Louisiana. That went into effect at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. A curfew goes into effect at 9 p.m.

An evacuation center will be set up at the Raceland Recreation Center.

Voluntary evacuations are also requested for residents of Barataria, Crown Point, and the town of Jean Lafitte.

Orleans Parish

Orleans Parish is also encouraging residents outside of levee protection to voluntarily evacuate by 6 p.m. Sunday. That includes Venetial Isles, Lake Catherine, and Irish Bayou areas, where four to six feet of storm surge are expected.

Main threats: storm surge and heavy rain

Several south Louisiana parishes are under hurricane warnings, hurricane watches, tropical storm warnings, storm surge warnings, and flash flood watches.

Heavy rain is possible Monday and Tuesday and could result in flash flooding, according to the National Weather Service. 2 to 4 inches of rain are possible through Tuesday, with some isolated higher amounts.

Storm surge warnings are in effect across the area, including St. Bernard Parish, Lower Lafourche Parish, Coastal Mississippi, and Orleans Parish. Vulnerable areas outside of levee protection are expected to see 4 to 6 feet of storms surge.

This post will be updated with more information as the storms develop.

6 p.m. Saturday

New Orleans and much of Southeast Louisiana are now under a Hurricane Watch, according to the the National Weather Service's 4 p.m. update.  That means hurricane conditions —  sustained winds of 74 miles-per-hour or higher — are possible within 48 hours. 

Forecasters say Tropical Storm Marco's track shifted significantly to the east and could make landfall in Southeast Louisiana as early as Monday afternoon.  Impacts from the storm might be felt as early as Sunday. 

Another storm, Tropical Storm Laura, is also headed for the region and could make landfall Wednesday. 

5 p.m. Friday

The latest forecast track of Tropical Storm Laura has shifted west, toward Louisiana— and toward the other tropical system headed for the west and central Gulf Coast.

Laura’s eventual landfall is still several days away, and the National Hurricane Center stresses that it’s predicted path and intensity are “more uncertain than usual” since the system has to pass over land, including Cuba and the southern tip of Florida, which could affect its eventual track.

We should know more about the expected impacts of Tropical Storm Laura, which is expected to become a hurricane at some point, and Tropical Depression 14, which is also expected to graduate to hurricane status under the name Marco, within the next few days, National Weather Service forecaster Freddie Zeigler told WWNO Friday morning.

Both storms are still several days away from expected landfall with plenty of time for forecasts to change. Plus, Zeigler said, the two systems could influence each other in unexpected ways.

Still, local officials say they are monitoring the storms’ developments and are ready for whatever combination they present. At this point, the one main threat is the potential for heavy rain, Monday through Thursday.

The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, which oversees much of the city’s drainage, says that all 99 of the largest pumps will be working by Sunday.

Officials are also urging residents to take the typical precautions ahead of the arrival of these storms: securing trash and recycling bins so they don’t spill into the streets and block catch basins, and finalizing hurricane plans and hurricane kits.

Crews from the New Orleans Department of Public Works are working over the weekend to remove leaves and debris from some of the city’s leafiest streets that are known to have regularly clogged catch basins, such as Esplanade, St. Charles and Napoleon avenues, CAO of Infrastructure Ramsey Green said at a press conference Friday afternoon.

For the latest updates about Tropical Storm Laura and Tropical Depression 14 from NOLA Ready, you can text LAURA to 888-777.

11 a.m. Friday

In a development that is in fact real life and not an overwritten movie script, a tropical storm and a tropical depression, both expected to reach hurricane strength, are headed for the Gulf Coast and could affect each other in ways that are not yet clear.

South Louisiana should prepare to start feeling the impacts of the separate tropical systems as early as Monday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Tropical Depression 14, which is expected to eventually strengthen into a hurricane, is currently forecast to make landfall somewhere along the western Gulf Coast. Tropical Storm Laura, which is also expected to strengthen into a hurricane, is currently forecast to make landfall along the eastern Gulf Coast.

It’s still a little too early to know exactly what kind of weather those storms might bring to the state, or how severe the impacts might be, or precisely where they’ll make landfall, but we should have a clearer picture within the next day or two, NWS forecaster Freddie Zeigler said Friday morning.

Part of the uncertainty is due to the fact that the storms are moving into the Gulf at the same time, Zeigler said, which could lead to “a kind of combined situation” where the storms affect one another’s development, but forecasters can’t yet say what that would look like.

Regardless, Zeigler said Louisiana residents should at the very least prepare for the possibility of heavy rain from Monday through Thursday.

Current forecasts call for 6 to 8 inches of rain along the coast during that time frame. New Orleans could see 2 to 4 inches, while Baton Rouge could see 1 to 3 inches.

Importantly, those rain predictions are likely to change as the storms develop and approach the coast.

Tropical Depression 14

Currently located south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Tropical Depression 14 is expected to strengthen into a hurricane as it moves into the southern Gulf of Mexico. That could happen as early as Saturday evening.

For Louisiana’s purposes, it’s still too early to know “how strong it will get or the location and magnitude of impacts it will produce,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

It’ll be named Marco if it develops into a tropical storm.

Tropical Storm Laura

Tropical Storm Laura is currently located in the Caribbean, and is expected to curl around the southern tip of Florida before taking an northward turn toward the Gulf Coast.

It’s still much too early to know when and where it will make landfall, but it’s currently forecast to arrive sometime around the middle of next week, slightly after Tropical Depression 14.

Double trouble

The presence of two named storms in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time appears to be extremely uncommon.

If both strengthen into hurricanes, as the National Hurricane Center currently expects, this would be the first time on record that two hurricanes brewed simultaneously in the Gulf, according to Colorado State University meteorologist and hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach.

According to Klotzback, two named storms made landfall in the Gulf around the same time in 1933. That year, a category three hurricane made landfall near Brownsville, Texas, while a tropical storm struck Cedar Key, Florida.

This post will be updated as the storms develop.

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