Gulf Coast preps for Ida landfall, possibly a Category 4 storm

Evacuations are underway as the U.S. Gulf Coast prepares for the arrival of Hurricane Ida. New Orleans is expected to be in the center of the storm. Ida made landfall in Cuba on Friday after which it quickly moved to the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, hospitals are at capacity as COVID-19 cases surge in the region. Ken Graham, Director of National Hurricane Center, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The national hurricane center director Ken Graham joined us from Miami shortly after noon today for an update on the forecast and the preparations for Ida on the gulf coast and beyond.

    Ken, we're speaking Saturday afternoon, where's the storm tracking? What is the area with the greatest amount of danger?

  • Ken Graham:

    The greatest amount of danger in several different areas in these storms, it's always a right around that center. You start looking at the actual forecast. We are actually forecasting 140 mile per hour winds, a category four. So you can see those winds right around the center in any one of those areas. And that hurricane warning could see some of those winds. But it's so important. It's not just around that center. You have storm surge, you have rainfall well outside the center. And a lot of that is also life threatening.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We had the mayor of New Orleans saying that it was too late to try and make a full scale evacuation of the city. What would your advice be to anyone that is in the storm's path right now?

  • Ken Graham:

    I think for those areas, when you're outside the levee system, the risk reduction system, a lot of those folks are getting out of there as recommended. But others, have a safe place. I mean, the hurricanes really don't care about any timelines. Sometimes they give you a week's notice. Sometimes they give you only days. So the best thing to do is just have a safe place from the wind and have a safe place from the water.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How did this hurricane build up so much intensity so fast? Is it slowing down? Is it the warmer water?

  • Ken Graham:

    This is a situation where this system is going over some of the warmest water in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a loop current of warm water. And even towards the Louisiana coast, it's very warm water. And when you combine that with very little wind shear, this is a type of system that can increase intensity very rapidly. And that's what we're forecasting to do.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So we've got different layers of problems here. On the one hand, you've got the wind. On the second, you've got the storm surge and then the large amount of rain that this storm is carrying.

  • Ken Graham:

    Everything you mentioned there is so life threatening, that wind is life threatening, the storm surge and those values of some areas getting 10 to 15 feet of storm surge, that is really water up your pant leg. That's inundation. But the other part is this life threatening rainfall. Some areas could see 10 to 15 inches of rain around southeast Louisiana and some places could even get 20 inches of rainfall. So you combine that with the storm surge and even on the Mississippi coast over to Mobile, central Mississippi, eight to 10 inches of rain, just a dangerous situation when it comes to flooding. Ninety percent of your fatalities in these tropical systems comes from the water.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is this storm season worse than usual? And I think the other thing people are wondering is, is this the new normal? That we are going to see more intense storms forming off the Gulf Coast with these warmer waters in the future?

  • Ken Graham:

    We're coming off the 2020 season that was not shy of relentless, the busiest season, the most names we've ever had in a season and was in 2020. And as predicted, this season looks to be above the average as well. And we seem to be headed that direction. We are seeing storms, observing them to be stronger. We're also seeing them rapidly intensify. And that really does play into the timelines. And when you have rapidly intensifying storms, that could shorten the timelines.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So Ida is not the last in the line. We've got another one coming down the barrel.

  • Ken Graham:

    Yeah, and we're also forecasting for a system out in the Pacific as well with Nora, just a hurricane, with a large wind swath impacting portions of Mexico, what we really have to watch out for as this system continues to move north into Baja, some of that moisture could get into the desert southwest. And so many areas in the desert southwest have been saturated from a pretty active monsoon and that could cause some flash flooding.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Ken Graham:

    Thank you.

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