Tropical system could hit Louisiana as hurricane, NHC says. What’s it mean for Coast?

NOAA Satellites shows storm brewing in Gulf of Mexico

On July 9, 2019, @NOAASatellites posted a water vapor loop from NOAA's GOES East of an "area of low-pressure that has a high chance of tropical cyclone formation". It could become a tropical depression soon, says the National Hurricane Center.
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On July 9, 2019, @NOAASatellites posted a water vapor loop from NOAA's GOES East of an "area of low-pressure that has a high chance of tropical cyclone formation". It could become a tropical depression soon, says the National Hurricane Center.

A tropical depression is likely to form Thursday morning and strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall in southern Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center advised in its 4 p.m. Wednesday update.

The Hurricane Hunters Air Force Reserve unit, based at Biloxi’s Keesler Air Force Base, returned from gathering data on the storm Wednesday afternoon.

The low-pressure system still lacks a well-defined center, the NHC said, but the storm has been slowly organizing and thunderstorm activity has been increasing.

“Strengthening is forecast during the next 72 hours, and the disturbance is forecast to become a tropical depression Thursday morning, a tropical storm Thursday night, and a hurricane on Friday,” the NHC said. A tropical depression has wind speeds of less than 39 mph, a tropical storm is between 39-73 mph, and a hurricane is between 74-110 mph.

The NHC upgraded the system to a potential cyclone on Wednesday morning and issued the first forecast track, known locally as the cone of uncertainty.

The good news for the Mississippi Coast is the cone still shows the storm swinging southwest around the tip of Louisiana before making landfall as a possible Category 1 hurricane in south-central Louisiana.

The track shifted slightly east with the 4 p.m. update, with landfall closer to the middle of the Louisiana coast than the Texas border. The models are not yet in agreement on when the storm will start moving north.

Meteorologist Phil Grigsby with the National Weather Service office in New Orleans said the Mississippi Coast is not likely to see any tropical storm conditions or significant impacts, just possible heavy rains from the slow-moving storm. He said 1 to 3 inches of rainfall is likely with as much as 5 inches in places.

A flash flood watch has been issued for the three coastal counties as well as Stone and George counties through Saturday morning. Grigsby said the Coast would likely see peak rainfall Friday and Saturday, when the storm is expected to turn north. The storm is “fairly compact” so bands of rain are possible but not likely to be widespread, he said.

Heavy rain is the primary threat, but tornadoes, coastal flooding and strong, gusty winds also will be possible on the Mississippi Coast, the weather service said.

A hurricane watch and storm surge watch has been issued for most of the Louisiana coast. A tropical storm watch is in effect from the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Pearl River.

New Orleans under water

New Orleans was already seeing heavy rains Wednesday, with the city reporting widespread street flooding in the French Quarter and across the entire city.

The weather service said around 10 a.m. that 4 to 6 inches of rain had already fallen on Jefferson Parish, which includes Metairie, and another 2-3 inches was expected.

Streets turned into small, swift rivers that overturned garbage cans and picked up pieces of floating wood. Water was up to the doors of many cars. Other vehicles were abandoned. Kayakers paddled their way down some streets.

Flash flooding hit New Orleans on July 10 as the National Weather Service warned of a potential tropical depression developing over the city and surrounding areas. A tornado warning was issued for parts of the city.

It was all a grim reminder of sudden flooding that surprised the city during an August 2017 rain. That flood exposed major problems at the agency overseeing street drainage. It led to personnel shake-ups at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and required major repair efforts.

On Wednesday, the board said 118 of 120 drainage pumps were operational and the agency was fully staffed. But the agency’s director says that much rain in such a short time would have overwhelmed any drainage system.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and said National Guard troops and high-water vehicles would be positioned all over the state.

“The entire coast of Louisiana is at play in this storm,” Edwards said.

Forecasters said Louisiana could see up to 12 inches of rain by Monday, with isolated areas receiving as much as 18 inches. The heavy additional rain could push the already swollen Mississippi River precariously close to the tops of levees that protect New Orleans, officials said.

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans said the agency was not expecting widespread overtopping of the levees, but there are concerns for areas south of the city. The river was expected to rise to 20 feet by late Friday at a key gauge in New Orleans.

The area is protected by levees 20 to 25 feet high, he said. The Corps was working with local officials to identify any low-lying areas and reinforce them, he said. He cautioned that the situation may change as more information about the storm arrives.

“We’re confident the levees themselves are in good shape. The big focus is height,” spokesman Ricky Boyett said.

As the area was under a tornado warning the morning of July 10, 2019, Anthony Odak captured this scene from the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway looking east.

Sand bag locations

Harrison County

  • Harrison County Road Department at 11076 Lorraine Road
  • D’Iberville Work Center at 190085 1st Ave. W
  • Lyman Work Center at 15001 County Farm Road
  • Woolmarket Work Center at 16395 Old Woolmarket Road
  • District 4 Work Center at 8300 34th Ave. in Gulfport
  • Long Beach Work Center at 605 N. Seal Ave.
  • Ken Combs Pier parking lot at Courthouse Road and U.S. 90
  • D’Iberville at the north end of the I-110 bridge, south of Rodriguez St.

  • Orange Grove Community Center on Dedeaux Road, the Fire Station on 42nd Avenue

  • Intersection of Hewes Avenue and Glover Street

Hancock County

Starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, bring your own shovels

  • Hancock County Arena – 4184 Kiln Delisle Road, Kiln
  • Hancock County Old Complex – 3068 Longfellow Drive, Bay St. Louis
  • Lakeshore Community Center – 6440 Lower Bay Road, Lakeshore
  • West Hancock Fire Department – 16006 Washington Street, Pearlington
  • Bayside Fire Department – 6215 West Hinds Street
  • Diamondhead City Hall – 5000 Diamondhead Circle Please

Jackson County

Sandbags available by 4 p.m. today:

  • West Division Roads Department, N. Washington Avenue (Hwy. 609), Ocean Springs
  • Forts Lake Fire Department, 10701 Forts Lake Road, Moss Point
  • Escatawpa VFD, 3801 Sentinel Dr, Moss Point
  • Fontainebleau Fire Department, 3901 Hwy. 57 South, Ocean Springs
  • East Division Roads Department, 10825 Hwy. 63, Moss Point
  • St. Andrews Fire Department, 1401 Elm Street, Ocean Springs

  • Ocean Springs - Public Works Department, 712 A Pine Drive

  • Gautier - Behind City Hall, Highway 90

  • Pascagoula - Jackson County Fairgrounds, 2902 Shortcut Rd

Sandbags available by 8 a.m. Thursday:

  • Moss Point - New Central Fire Station, 4204 Bellview Street

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Lauren Walck has been in journalism on the Gulf Coast for 10 years, and she’s the Sun Herald’s senior news editor and a regional growth specialist. She is a native of Mobile, Alabama, and an alumna of Louisiana State University.
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Britneé Davis is McClatchy’s South Region Digital Producer. The south region includes the Sun Herald, the Telegraph, and the Ledger-Enquirer.