Hurricane Gustav has passed over the deep, very warm waters between Jamaica and Cuba. In doing so, he rapidly strengthened overnight from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 3 storm this morning, making him the second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic season. Bertha was the other major hurricane, but remained well out to sea her entire lifetime. Gustav’s vitals as of 8:30A MDT:
Center located at 20.8N, 81.6W; maximum sustained winds of 120mph; moving NW @ 11mph; minimum pressure is down all the way to 955mb, which is 33mb less than the reading yesterday. That is quite the rapid intensification. In fact, since the pressure has continued to drop steadily this morning, expect Gustav to strengthen even further today before eye-wall replacement cycles, a slightly cooler pool of water and the island of Cuba work to weaken him somewhat.
Gustav should still make landfall over Cuba later tonight as a Category 3 storm. A solid eye-wall did develop overnight. Gustav has an impressive outflowing cloud shield. Hurricane force winds were found on the northeast quadrant on an earlier hurricane hunter flight. As they get going again today, a clearer picture of where they are found will be available. Tropical Storm force winds extend all the way to Cuba, a decent distance from the storm’s center. Western Cuba is under a Hurricane Warning today.
Model solutions have come to closer agreement as of today. There is a much narrower band encompassing the solutions through the Gulf of Mexico, which Gustav will enter 12-24 hours from now. While Gustav crosses the central Gulf, he is still forecasted to overrun the Gulf Loop Current’s warmest stretch. The model intensity forecast has him strengthening to a Category 4 hurricane during this time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go all the way to a Category 5. After that, there is very good agreement about the likely landfall location: the middle of the Louisiana coast. He should make landfall between Morgan City and Lake Charles. The timing is coming into better focus. The suite of models are also in pretty good agreement that the landfall could occur Monday night.
Post-landfall may not offer a better story than during landfall. Due to the strength and orientation of the ridge that will remain over the eastern U.S., Gustav could stall over Louisiana. We’ve already dealt with one slow moving storm: Fay dropped incredible amounts of rainfall over Florida just a week or so ago. Gustav shouldn’t dump quite that much rain, but the longer he lingers, the more flooding far inland will be a concern. New Orleans residents are smartly already evacuating. I’m sure other Gulf coast residents will follow similar measures throughout the next two days.