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U.S. Gulf Coast Braces for a Fast-Forming Hurricane

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Tropical Storm Ida takes shape as night falls over Cuba, August 26 (NOAA / GOES)

Published Aug 26, 2021 10:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Gulf Coast is bracing for its first significant hurricane of 2021 as a newly-formed tropical storm barrels towards Cuba. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is urging mariners to make ready for the arrival of Tropical Storm Ida, which just became strong enough for named-storm status on Thursday and is expected to strengthen rapidly into a hurricane before reaching the United States. The service is advising affected parties to get ready now, as hurricane-force winds, rough seas and rainfall could reach the area well in advance of the eye of the storm. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm will likely pass over Western Cuba, then strengthen to hurricane force before arriving in Louisiana on Sunday. Surface water temperatures along its predicted track are in the range of 86-90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to CBS, and warm water is an accelerant for tropical storm systems. 

"Once the system moves over the Gulf of Mexico, it will be traversing a warm eddy, and this feature, combined with a favorable upper-level wind pattern and a  moist atmosphere, is likely to result in steady to rapid  strengthening on Saturday and Saturday night," the center warned. "The NHC intensity forecast again brings the system to near major hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday."

The storm is expected to reach an intensity of 95 knots (110 mph) just before reaching the U.S. The current forecast would see the storm making landfall in the vicinity of Port Fourchon, though NHC noted that its track forecast error for three days in the future has been averaging about 120 miles.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has pre-emptively declared a state of emergency due to the potential impact from the storm. All of Louisiana's coastline is within the forecast cone for Ida's track. 

“Now is the time for people to finalize their emergency game plan, which should take into account the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “This type of threat contains additional problems because the window to prepare is so short. By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm."

U.S. Coast Guard Heartland has advised owners of small craft to bring their boats out of the water or move them to inland marinas, and to be sure to remove unoccupied vessels' EPIRBs to prevent false distress alerts.

Oil majors BHP, Chevron, Shell and Equinor are already reducing manning levels or evacuating offshore platforms located in the hurricane's path. Ida is forecast to transit through some of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico's most productive regions for oil and gas.