\"Worst Case Scenario\" Unfolds as Hurricane Ida Makes Landfall

ON 09/05/2021 AT 01:11 AM

The hurricane tied as the most intense ever to hit Louisiana, made landfall at 12:55 pm local time Sunday.

Hurricane Ida closes in on southern Louisiana on August 30, 2021.

Hurricane Ida as it made its final approach on the southern Louisiana coast on August 30, 2021. Image shot from the International Space Station. Photo: European Space Agency, via NASA

As of August 26, the storm was just a tropical depression forming.

As it entered the Gulf of Mexico and began moving northwards over water superheated thanks to the climate crisis it intensified rapidly. Data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed the Gulf waters are running from 3° to 5° F (1.7° to 3.5° C) hotter on average than they were as of the late 1990s.

Those superheated waters kicked Ida’s sustained wind speeds at 75 mph just a day later. As of Saturday night, the wind speeds reached 105 mph as a solid category 2 hurricane. At that point it was strengthening fast enough forecasters initially predicted it would strike southern Louisiana as a dangerous Category 4 storm with peak sustained winds of around 140 mph. Those forecasters were wrong – but in exactly the wrong direction.

The air thickened further, darkened with intense cloud formations filled with moisture and of far higher than average temperatures. That meant when the storm hit it would be carrying far more water within it than if it had formed in just slightly cooler skies.

Researchers have demonstrated previously that storm clouds in general carry 7 percent more moisture for every degree Celsius increase in air temperature.

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Image courtesy of NOAA.

Thanks to the energy absorbed from the sea as the storm tracked upwards across the Gulf, the storm made landfall at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with peak sustained winds of 150 mph. That is just 7 mph below the minimum for a Cat 5 hurricane.

“Worst case scenario unfolding for Louisiana,” said meteorologist Tom Di Liberto of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the storm grew more powerful and edged closer to the coast. “Absolutely sick to my stomach seeing this.”

In preparation for the storm, over 95 percent of all oil production shut down in the Gulf of Mexico, as a protective measure. According to the Department of Energy, major oil refineries such as those operated by ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Shell, and Valero had shut down early. Chevron, which has large oil terminals in Port Fourchon, where Hurricane Ida came ashore, and in Plaquemines Parish, both in Louisiana, also shut down operations in both places early.

Multiple petrochemical plants along the Gulf Coast were also reportedly shut down as a protective measure.

The Colonial Pipeline which brings oil from the Gulf Coast to North Carolina was also shut down in advance of Hurricane Ida’s approach. The company has said it will inspect for damage after the fact, and hopefully make emergency repairs quickly.

At least 20 nursing homes and rehab facilities were emptied of patients as of late Saturday, as part of a broad-based order to get people to safer locations in advance.

Approximately 1 million people in the metropolitan New Orleans area were not evacuated.

When it came ashore, Hurricane Ida brought storm surges along the southern Louisiana and Mississippi coasts of from four to seven feet above normal. It has also brought 10 to 15 inches of rain over its main track northwards into Louisiana and northeasterly into southern Mississippi.

As it hit, the hurricane blew the roof off an important hospital in south Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish. The roof lifted into the air with a sudden jolt, then was shredded by the powerful winds. Patients were still inside the hospital at the time, despite orders by local authorities to evacuate in advance. Sources say they did not evacuate because of the lack of alternate hospitals where the patients could be transferred. Emergency evacuations to multiple hospitals and other shelters are apparently now underway, despite the lack of space elsewhere.

As of Sunday night, over 700,000 were left without power because of the outage. 911 emergency service was out in New Orleans.

Widespread damage to buildings, home, and other property are already being reported throughout the area.

Executive orders for emergency aid were signed as the storm intensified. FEMA crews and other emergency relief already in the area are expected to be deployed by morning. Power companies claim that they have 16,000 workers ready to restore power as soon as the storm has passed.