Texas and Louisiana Brace for Hurricane Laura

hurricane laura
Hurricane Laura churns northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, August 15 (NOAA)

Published Aug 25, 2020 6:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Laura is expected to strengthen into a major hurricane before making landfall in southwestern Louisiana or southeastern Texas late Wednesday night. 

Laura is expected to undergo rapid intensification over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, bringing its wind speeds into the Category 3 range or greater at time of landfall. In some areas, storm surge could reach up to 10 feet, threatening dangerous wave and flooding action. The surge could stretch up to 30 miles inland along the region's estuaries and waterways, warned the National Hurricane Center. A storm surge warning is in effect all the way from Galveston Island to the mouth of the Mississippi River, 300 nautical miles to the east.

Offshore, nearly 300 production platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico - about half of the total - have been shut in and evacuated, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The shutdown affects about 85 percent of GoM oil production and 60 percent of all GoM gas production. 11 out of 12 moored drilling rigs have been evacuated, the agency reported, and all 16 operating DP-enabled rigs have moved out of the storm's path. 

The area where the storm will likely make landfall includes a large fraction of America's refining capacity. Multiple large refineries have shut down in advance of the storm, and about a third of the Gulf Coast's refining capacity is now closed until the storm has passed, according to analysts with Lipow Oil Associates. The consultancy Enki Research estimates that up to 12 percent of U.S. refining capacity could be shut down for half a year under a worst-case scenario. Loading terminals like the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) are also closing temporarily, along with Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG export facility.

The storm has major implications for local population centers. Along the coast, nearly 400,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate from Port Arthur, Galveston and Beaumont, Texas. An additional 200,000 are under an evacuation order in Louisiana's Calcasieu Parish, and more localities are issuing comparable orders as the storm approaches. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is advising the public to stay off the water, prepare their boats for storm impacts, follow weather updates closely and evacuate if ordered. The agency warned that emergency responders may not be able to reach or rescue those who do not evacuate during the storm. 

Captains of the Port have so far taken a relatively limited approach to navigation closures.  Mississippi River Channel entrance is closed to marine traffic in advance of the storm, along with the Venice Port Complex. Port Arthur, Galveston, Houston, Sabine and other major regional ports in the storm's path are open to navigation or open with restrictions, according to the Coast Guard's status tracking system, though several - notably Galveston and Port Arthur - are under public evacuation orders.