*** Potentially Catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Katrina Taking Aim on the LA/MS Coasts ***
Folks...the news continues to get worse for the north-central Gulf Coast as it pertains to Hurricane Katrina. The storm has once again rapidly intensified early this morning and now has maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour, making it a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The minimum central pressure reported by the Hurricane Hunters on the 9:50 a.m. advisory makes Katrina one for the record books:
By pressure, the 908 mb reading for Katrina now makes her sixth...
If it maintained its current intensity all the way to landfall, it would be the second strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the U.S.
Final preparations for a major hurricane strike should be rushed to completion today. And if you're advised to evacuate by your local emergency management officials, please heed their warnings!
If Katrina makes landfall anywhere close to its present intensity, it will be significantly stronger than either Betsy (1965) or Andrew (1992). Betsy is officially listed as a Category 3 hurricane at landfall in Louisiana, although some argue that it may have been a Category 4, while Andrew was a Category 3 when it made landfall in Louisiana.
The forecast track reasoning has changed little overnight and this morning. A deepening trough that extends from the north-central U.S. down to Texas has weakened a ridge of high pressure that had been steering Katrina westward and is now helping to steer the storm on a more west-northwest to northwest course. The key for Louisiana residents will be how soon Katrina makes a turn toward due north. The further west the storm gets before making the turn, the more severe the impacts will be for our viewing area. The "official" forecast track calls for a landfall near or just east of Grand Isle with a northward motion over eastern portions of New Orleans and a continuation into the Mississippi coast. A track such as this would confine the most severe impacts to areas southeast of Baton Rouge, including Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Orleans, and St. Charles parishes. Areas north of Lake Pontchartrain would also be hard-hit, particularly portions of Tangipahoa and St. Tammany parishes. Any westward deviation in the track would bring worse weather into areas such as Livingston, Ascension, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Assumption, and St. Mary parishes.
For Metro Baton Rouge, be prepared for at least winds near or a little above tropical storm force by Monday morning. Depending on how close Katrina comes, hurricane force gusts are also possible. Some power outages should be expected, although they'll be more widespread as you head east. Isolated tornadoes and very heavy rainfall will also be threats beginning Sunday evening and continuing through Monday.
Areas west of Baton Rouge will generally see diminishing impacts from Katrina. Nonetheless, tropical storm force winds (at least in gusts) could very well extend into portions of Acadiana. Again, keep in mind that any shifts in the forecast track would result in a change in these impact predictions.
The other troubling thing about Katrina is its HUGE size. The tropical storm force and hurricane force winds extend out quite a distance, meaning the impacts will be widespread from southern Louisiana into Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
One final note -- if Katrina maintains a Category 5 intensity, storm surges of 20+ feet will likely occur for portions of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi east of the track. We would see a surge rivaling that of Camille along the Mississippi coast.
That's all for now. Keep it tuned to WAFB throughout the day for the latest information. I'll attempt to update this writing later today, but keep in mind that our top priority and greatest attention has to go to the on-air product at this point. I'm going on about 24 hours with no sleep, so I'm also going to try to catch a cat-nap!
Be safe and please heed evacuation orders from your local officials...