BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – “We’re going to get basically a right hook from Marco and a left hook from Laura,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in his second briefing Sunday afternoon on the two major storms approaching Louisiana and set to arrive within 24 hours of each other.
Marco strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane late Sunday morning and was about 180 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on Sunday evening, heading north-northwest at 13 mph, packing winds of 75 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center warned of life-threatening storm surges and hurricane-force winds along the Gulf Coast. It is expected to make landfall in Southeast Louisiana on Monday.
After killing at least seven people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Laura moved over eastern Cuba late Sunday, following a path likely to take it to the same part of the U.S. coast, also as a potential hurricane. The tropical system was centered about 30 miles west of Cuba’s eastern tip Sunday evening, and its maximum sustained winds were at 60 mph. It was moving west-northwest at 21 mph.
Tropical Storm Laura is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by late Tuesday into a “strong Category 2” before it makes landfall Wednesday. The NWS said late Sunday it could strengthen into a Category 3 storm.
During the evening briefing Sunday, Edwards noted that the state has not seen a Category 3 hurricane since Rita in 2005, adding that it “brings up horrific images.”
To make matters worse, NWS New Orleans Meteorologist in Charge Benjamin Schott said there will only be 12 to 18 hours between impacts of Marco and Laura for Louisiana.
“There is a very narrow window between these two systems and I can’t really put words together clearly to talk about how odd that is.”
Gov. Edwards emphasized NWS warnings Sunday evening not to focus on the cone of the storms’ predicted paths.
“Nobody should look at these cones for these two hurricanes and just say, ‘Well, I’m either outside or inside and therefore I will or I won’t pay attention or take the necessary precautions.’ The cone is an estimate of right now, where the center of those storms should track. But the fact of the matter is, only 66-percent of the time do storms actually make landfall inside the cone. And the effects are always felt outside the cone,” Edwards warned. “And clearly Laura is further out and so nobody should be making any definitive decisions like that based on Laura at this time, but everybody needs to continue to pay attention.”
“Obviously we have a very unique situation with two storms that are unfortunately headed toward Louisiana and we do expect impact within 24 hours of each other,” Edwards said in his Sunday morning briefing, adding that the two storms “present a challenge that quite frankly we’ve not seen before.”
Edwards warned that the storms are not to be taken lightly and urged people to continue COVID-19 precautions.
“The virus is not concerned we have hurricanes coming… It’s not going to take any time off and neither can we.”
The prospect of piggybacked hurricanes was reviving all-too-fresh memories of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. The storm has been blamed for as many as 1,800 deaths and levee breaches in New Orleans led to catastrophic flooding.
“What we know is there’s going to be storm surge from Marco, we know that that water is not going to recede hardly at all before Laura hits, and so we’ve not seen this before and that’s why people need to be paying particular attention,” Edwards said.
“The cumulative impact of these storms will likely have much of Louisiana facing tropical storm/hurricane force impacts for a much longer period of time than it would with any one hurricane,” he wrote.
Edwards declared a state of emergency Friday. On Sunday evening, he said he spoke with President Donald Trump Sunday, who signed the state’s emergency declaration requested by the state, which will access to federal resources in response to the disaster.
The governor has been hosting meetings of the state’s Unified Command Group and receiving daily briefings on the two storms. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has activated its Emergency Operations Center to monitor the storm and switched to 24-hour operations on Sunday.
View the full Sunday morning briefing below.
The storms are not expected to merge into a ‘superstorm’ in the Gulf of Mexico, but two hurricanes have never appeared in the Gulf at the same time, according to records going back to at least 1900, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The last time two tropical storms were in the Gulf together was in 1959, he said.
During Sunday’s briefing, Edwards also said he did not know yet how the storms would affect the timeline on the decision that was expected to be made this week on whether to extend the current statewide Phase 2 emergency orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including requiring face masks and imposing restrictions on business operations.
The current emergency order is set to expire on Friday.