Hurricane Gustav came off the western portion of Cuba last night as a Category 4 hurricane and maintained that strength while continuing northwest. It appears that interaction with the landmass caused Gustav to weaken slightly since then. As of this morning, Gustav has weakened to a still very dangerous Category 3 storm. Starting with his vitals:
Center located at 25.3N, 86.0W; maximum sustained winds of 120mph; moving NW @ 17mph; minimum pressure of 960mb, about 20mb higher than the last time I looked near 12A MDT.
Gustav’s impressive satellite signature yesterday has degraded so far today. There is no longer a clear eye portion of the storm. Also, the convection and outflow isn’t as symmetric as it was late last night. The strongest convection looks to be confined to the southwestern portion of the storm.
What’s next for Gustav? He is still heading straight for the northern Gulf coast. As the hours tick away, his most likely landfall site is being forecasted with more confidence. Somewhat surprisingly, that location remains southern Louisiana, perhaps a bit to the east of where I thought he would strike the past two days. It looks more likely that the site will be close to New Iberia, LA. Models are forecasting a slight re-increase of strength back to Category 4 status while Gustav is still over the Gulf. Prior to landfall, his strength should begin slowly decreasing and continue to do so after landfall. Landfall is expected to occur during the day on Monday, currently sometime after 8A CDT. Due to the influence of the ridge of high pressure over the eastern U.S., his forward speed should decrease and the possibility of him stalling over Louisiana or Texas remains high.
Storm surge from Gustav is expected all along the northern Gulf coast. A maximum of 12-15 feet of storm surge is possible near the mouth of the Mississippi River and east of New Orleans. The height of surge east and west of this region decreases from there, with up to 12 feet forecasted a good distance away from the River, out toward Abbeville to the west and Biloxi, MS to the east. Combined with rain from convective bands, flooding then becomes a major risk from this storm across a very wide area. The initial storm surge and winds will weaken infrastructure and a stalled storm will only add to the challenges facing those who live and those who will help clean up in the region. Based on Gustav’s current projected path and expected effects, I don’t think the situation looks good for the New Orleans area. Damage from wind and flooding should occur once again. It is obviously too early to tell just how extensive that damage will be, which means that officials along the Gulf coast should be congratulated on acting promptly to move residents away from the area.