Hurricane Gustav, now just south of Haiti, strengthened overnight from a tropical depression to a strong category 1 hurricane. This process took only 15 hours - the fastest rate of strengthening ever recorded for a tropical depression in the Atlantic basin.
More importantly, Gustav now poses an even more serious immediate threat to the islands of the Caribbean, and this weekend, to the US Gulf Coast. The latest forecast from the NHC calls for Gustav to enter the Gulf of Mexico as a major hurricane on Saturday, just off the western tip of Cuba. As of today the 5-day NHC forecast ends there - but my best guess would be a final landfall as a strong hurricane (Category 2-3+) somewhere between Houston and Mobile on Monday, though right now landfall could realistically be anywhere from Brownsville, Tx to Tampa, Fl. Some models show Gustav reaching Category 5 before landfall. Bottom line, there WILL be a hurricane landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast early next week. Just to keep perspective on how serious this is, Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, and Rita were all Category 3 (major hurricanes) at landfall. And we all remember them.
This is the graphic that really scares me. Not only has Gustav already undergone record-setting rapid intensification, but its path takes it directly over the warmest waters of the Caribbean, and then over the warmest part of the loop current this weekend in the Gulf. And we remember also what the loop current did for Katrina.
The National Weather Service office in Slidell, LA, who famously warned of the impending threat of catastrophe that Katrina posed, has started to pick up on the serious threat of Gustav. This is from their latest forecast discussion:
THE LABOR DAY WEEKEND SHOULD BE NICE FOR THE MOST PART LOCALLY BUT WITH A DEGREE OF UNEASINESS AS HURRICANE GUSTAV APPEARS POISED TO MOVE INTO THE SOUTHEAST GULF BY WAY OF THE YUCATAN CHANNEL ON SUNDAY. THE FORECAST PERIOD BEYOND MONDAY WILL BE HIGHLY DEPENDENT ON FUTURE TRACK AND INTENSITY OF GUSTAV. CLIMATOLOGICALLY...WE ARE NEARING THE PEAK OF THE SEASON...WHICH IS SEPTEMBER 10TH. THE FIRST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER SHOWS 10 NAMED STORMS DIRECTLY IMPACTING OUR FORECAST AREA SINCE 1851. CONDITIONS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO LOOK FAVORABLE FOR MAINTAINING HURRICANE INTENSITY THROUGH THE YUCATAN CHANNEL WHERE THE HIGHEST HEAT CONTENT IS FOUND. AN EDDY OF VERY WARM WATERS RESIDES AROUND 25N 90W BUT WATER HEAT CONTENT AND DEPTH REALLY FALL OFF NORTH OF 27N...WHICH MAY WORK IN SOMEONE`S FAVOR WHEREVER GUSTAV ULTIMATELY TREKS. DEEP LAYERED WIND PROFILES OVER THE SYSTEM WOULD SUPPORT MAJOR HURRICANE STATUS IN THE CATEGORY 3 RANGE...AND A FEW OF THE TROPICAL CYCLONE INTENSITY MODELS DO RAMP INTENSITY OF GUSTAV INTO LOW END CATEGORY 5 THOUGH A MAJORITY OF THE MODELS LEVEL OFF IN THE LOW END CATEGORY 3...WHICH LOCAL RESEARCH SUPPORTS. TIME WILL TELL IF WE MAY BE FACED WITH ANOTHER ROUND OF DESTINY ALONG OUR SHORES. CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS SYSTEM WILL BE PRUDENT OVER THE LABOR DAY WEEKEND.
Maximum intensity of Category 3 to 5... "Destiny on our Shores".... scary stuff. So pay attention this week guys.
Start today getting your important papers in order, thinking about where you might go if you have to evacuate, and digging out your Home Depot gift cards. If the forecasts stays on this track, start your preparations to leave before the weekend. And keep up with the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center. Anything they say will trump the forecasts of the Weather Channel, or your local media.