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Ida may be a hurricane to remember

By Skip Rigney

If you’re a regular reader of this column, then you are probably already staying up to date on Hurricane Ida as it heads for the northern Gulf Coast. Today (Saturday), the National Hurricane Center should be able to zero in on the likely landfall zone and when and where hurricane conditions will spread inland.

The worst weather will be in the inner core of the hurricane that surrounds the relatively calm eye, especially the north and east eyewall. Depending on the size of Ida’s eye at landfall, that may be a swath anywhere from 25 to 75 miles wide. That’s why so much attention is given to the location of the eye.

However, feeder bands far outside the eyewall, especially on the east side, can pack a wallop. High winds and small tornadoes can cause extensive tree and structural damage even 200 miles to the east of where the eye comes ashore and over 100 miles inland.

As I write this on Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center expects the inner core of the storm to come ashore on the Louisiana coast Sunday. That will put us in the northeast quadrant of the storm’s circulation, so high winds are definitely possible in Pearl River County on Sunday, Sunday night, and early Monday. And, a landfall in extreme southeast Louisiana or on the Mississippi coast, which would put us in some of the worst inland winds, was still on the table of possibilities as of Friday morning.

Even if the storm center stays far enough west to keep wind from being a problem here, expect rainfall in our county to exceed five inches. Some models indicate that Ida could stall once it comes ashore. If that happens our region could be in for double digit rain totals over several days.

I recommend that you use your internet connection, or, if that fails, your cell phone, to check the latest local hurricane statements from the National Weather Service Office in Slidell at www.weather.gov/LIX/.

They will incorporate any changes in the National Hurricane Center official forecast into their local statements regarding expected conditions and impacts.

As Ida developed on Thursday, there were striking similarities with another hurricane that affected the northern Gulf Coast in August 52 years ago, namely the infamous Hurricane Camille.

Camille and Ida both began as tropical waves that moved from Africa across the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Both developed closed wind circulations, becoming tropical depressions, very close to the same region over the high-octane warm waters of the northwestern Caribbean east of Jamaica and south of western Cuba.

The forecast track for Ida for Friday and today through the southern and central Gulf is eerily reminiscent of the track taken by Camille.

As with Camille, Ida is being steered northwestward around the western end of high pressure that is often centered in the western Atlantic this time of year.

Let’s hope that Ida does not follow Camille’s example of rapid intensification. The current configuration of the warm Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico is such that Ida will be transiting over a large blob of extremely warm water that extends deeper than the surrounding warm surface waters. That high ocean heat content could provide the fuel that Ida needs to become a major hurricane.