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LIVE MAP: Track Hurricane Laura after landfall

Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday as a Category 4 storm, blasting the border of Louisiana and Texas and hitting maximum sustained winds of around 150 miles per hour at its peak.

On Wednesday, Laura gained strength in the warm waters of the central Gulf of Mexico, where it rapidly intensified into what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) described as a “catastrophic” storm. It was predicted to bring “unsurvivable” 20-foot storm surge along the coast, which occurs when high winds force rising ocean waters onshore. Hundreds of thousands of people had been ordered to evacuate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This updating map lays out Hurricane Laura’s anticipated trajectory over the next several days, according to data collected by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

That rapid rise in water can travel inland for several miles, causing structural damage, erosion and, potentially, deaths. So far, a handful of storm-related deaths due to trees falling on homes have been confirmed.

The destruction is predicted to extend far beyond the storm’s center. In addition to extreme winds, the NHC anticipates “widespread” flooding throughout eastern Texas, western Louisiana and north into Arkansas, including in urban areas. On Friday and Saturday, that heavy rainfall is projected to reach “across the mid-Mississippi and portions of the Lower Ohio and Lower Tennessee Valleys.”

Some tornadoes are also expected to form in parts of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi Wednesday afternoon, and swells created by the storm are “likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” along “the entire Gulf Coast.”

The storm also killed 20 people in Haiti and three in the Dominican Republic, and caused power outages and major flooding in both countries.

Laura initially formed alongside Tropical Storm Marco, which weakened to a post-tropical cyclone after briefly reaching hurricane status on Sunday, but still managed to bring heavy rains to parts of the north-central Gulf coast on Monday. Laura picked up intensity in the Gulf’s warm waters and reached Category 4 classification — defined by featuring sustained winds between 130 and 156 miles per hour — on Wednesday.

Edward Rappaport, who serves as deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, said that it’s unusual — but not unprecedented — for two tropical cyclones to develop near each other in the Atlantic basin. The term “tropical cyclones,” he explained, covers hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions.

“[It’s especially unusual] when they are both over the Gulf of Mexico and threatening land,” Rappaport told NewsHour via email. “This occurs, on average, about every 25 years of so, with the last instance in 2002.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year’s hurricane season is the first on record to feature nine tropical storms before August and 13 before September. With Marco and Laura now crossed off, eight names remain on the official list researchers use to christen tropical cyclones each year.

NOAA noted that another record was broken three years ago when Hurricane Harvey touched down in Texas on Aug. 25, 2017, becoming the first Category 4 hurricane to do so since 1961. Harvey also marked the first hurricane of that intensity to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Charley in 2004.

That year — 2004 — was one of the “most active and destructive hurricane seasons on record” for the Atlantic basin. Storms caused more than $61 billion in damage and “thousands of deaths across several countries,” according to a 2019 assessment from the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

NOAA warned in early August that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has the potential to be “extremely active,” noting that an “average season produces 12 named storms,” and the ninth of those storms “typically doesn’t form until October 4.” The agency predicted that 19 to 25 named storms, three to six of which will likely become “major hurricanes” classified as Category 3 storms or higher, will occur over the course of hurricane season, which ends on the final day of November. If current predictions hold true, Laura will be the first major hurricane of the season.

“While the presence of Marco and Laura are not necessarily a portent of the rest of the season, NOAA’s seasonal hurricane forecast calls for a near-record number of Atlantic tropical cyclones this hurricane season,” Rappaport said.

A public advisory issued by NOAA on Wednesday afternoon announced a storm surge warning in effect from Freeport , Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, emphasizing that the situation is “life threatening,” and encouraging residents in those areas to “promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials.”

The advisory also issued a hurricane warning from San Luis Pass, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisianal. The advisory calls for “preparations to protect life and property” to be “rushed to completion.”