Science

Hurricane Ida, the fifth strongest storm to hit mainland US, is headed northeast

This post is being updated.

Ida, which made landfall over the weekend in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, is moving northeast across the country as of Monday morning, having weakened to a tropical storm. There will still be widespread, potentially life-threatening flash floods throughout the region as the storm moves inland. Upwards of four inches of rain are expected across most of Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania over the next few days.

As Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the combination of winds and the storm surge forced the Mississippi River to briefly flow backwards (at least at the surface), a phenomenon that the US Geological survey said was “extremely uncommon.” Southern Louisiana was the hardest hit region, since the storm remained at full force for several hours as it passed over.

The levee system in New Orleans held, but there is massive structural damage to many buildings, multiple hospitals lost generators, and widespread destruction was seen across the state.

Ida rapidly intensified from Friday to Sunday morning, which didn’t give officials enough time to issue a mandatory evacuation for those living inside the levee system, where a voluntary evacuation order had been in place as of Friday afternoon. Ida was a Category 3 storm, as projected, early on Sunday morning, but the National Hurricane Center upgraded it to a Category 4 storm just an hour later. “We can sum it up by saying this will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s,” said the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, at a press conference over the weekend.

The 150 mile-per-hour winds recorded make Ida the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the mainland.

Ida seriously tested the fortified infrastructure that the local government has invested billions of dollars in since Hurricane Katrina made landfall 16 years ago, according to The New York Times. Those improvements have become all the more important over the last decade or so, as hurricanes have gotten stronger as the oceans warm. The high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico fueled Ida’s rapid intensification. So far that money seems to have been well spent, but it’s unclear at this point how much infrastructure was truly damaged.

As of Monday morning, the city of New Orleans was entirely without power, as were more than a million people across the rest of the state and more than 40,000 in Mississippi. Louisiana officials are assessing how much damage may have been done to the state’s many oil refineries and chemical plants. Destruction to those regions could mean continued suffering on top of the loss of property and lives, since oil and chemical spills can cause very different kinds of harm than wind and rain.

All of this is on top of the devastating COVID surge that’s currently raging in Louisiana. There were no ICU beds left in the entire state as of a week ago, which means hospitals are already over capacity even without the impact of a major hurricane.



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