Gustav spins toward La. landfall Monday
A somewhat weakened, but still deadly Hurricane Gustav barreled on this morning toward a Monday landfall somewhere along the Louisiana Gulf coast.
The storm's encounter with western Cuba on Saturday took some of the punch out of its top winds. But Gustav remained a Category 3 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 120 mph at 8 a.m. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said "some restrengthening" is expected in the next 24 hours, and that Gustav could regain the Cat. 4 power it had mustered just before landfall in Cuba.
Here's AccuWeather.com's spin on Gustav. And, for those hungry for even more hype on this increasingly bus hurricane season, here's Henry Margusity's blog. He's already gassing his cars. He thinks Hanna will cross Florida after Gustav makes landfall tomorrow, and deal the Gulf Coast a second blow late in the week. And, he's guessing that the next storm - Ike - will pound the East Coast once it forms, strengthens and crosses the Atlantic. Are we getting ahead of ourselves?
Hurricane warnings - meaning the hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours - are posted today from Cameron, La., east to the Alabama/Florida state line. Those are the red lines on the coast on the map above. Tropical storm warnings - the blue lines - extend from the Florida line to the Ochlockonee River, in the Florida panhandle, and from Cameron, La. to High Island, Tex.
In all, tropical-storm force winds can be expected all across the northern coast of the Gulf, 200 miles outward from the center of the storm. Hurricane force winds extend up to 50 miles from the storm's eye. Big storm.
Mandatory evacuations are underway in parts of Louisiana, and especially in the New Orleans area. Detailed analyses of what caused the city's flood protection to fail in 2005, and three years of repairs and upgrades to the levees and flood walls and pumps have improved the city's chances, according to what engineers familiar with the work have told me. Among the key pieces of the project has been the installation of gates at the head of the canals leading out of the city and into Lake Pontchartrain. When the city has flooded in past storms, it has been from the lake. And during Katrina, it was lake water flowing in through breaks in the flood walls of the canals that did the worst damage. Now, at least, those canals are cut off from the Lake. They hope.
Six to 12 inches of rain - or 20 in some places - will severely test the flood barriers and pumps. And the storm surge could top 10 or 15 feet.
Worse, the construction needed to bring the entire system to a state of readiness for a Cat. 3 hurricane is not scheduled for completion until 2011, I'm told. Residents were promised in 2005 that the job would be done by the start of the next hurricane season. Turned out to be a tougher challenge than they thought.
At the very least, we can expect more devastation to the wetlands south and east of the city - the natural barrier against these storms. They have been eroding steadily since engineers began redirecting the river in massive flood control projects during the last century, and preventing fresh sediment from reaching the Delta. There are long-range plans to address those issues, but storms like Katrina and Gustav won't wait for engineers and taxpayers to get their stuff together.
Good luck to everyone in the path of this storm.
Then there's Hanna. This also-ran storm is still just a tropical storm, with top sustained winds of 60 mph. At 8 a.m. this morning it was about 155 miles northeast of Grand Turk ISland in the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph, and was expected tokeep headed that way, with a gradual decrease in forward speed for the next few days.
Tropical storm watches and warnings were issued for the Turks and Caicos Islands, and for the southeastern Bahamas.
Hard to say what this storm will hold in store for the mainland U.S. The five-day outlook has Hanna becoming a hurricane off the central Florida coast by early Friday morning. For now, forecasters could only warn of long-period swells and rip currents along the southeast beaches.
Way out there, across the Atlantic, forecasters still have their eye on another storm system near the Cape Verde Islands (below). This area of bad weather off the African coast was expected to develop further in the next few days, and could become the next tropical depression to watch.