BOSTON (BLOOMBERG) - Tropical Storm Ida has formed in the Caribbean and is forecast to grow into a powerful hurricane in the days ahead, wreaking havoc across the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately crashing into the US coast.
Ida, the ninth storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, is swirling past Jamaica, with top winds of 64kmh. It is forecast to strike Cuba on Friday (Aug 27), reach hurricane strength over the gulf on Saturday and make landfall in Louisiana or Mississippi late Sunday or Monday.
"Sunday is the anniversary of Katrina - it seems like a particularly cruel date for a hurricane landfall in Louisiana," said Mr Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger said in an interview.
The storm's winds are forecast to peak at 177kmh, which would put it just below Category 3 major hurricane status on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Centre said on Thursday.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, according to a Twitter post.
Hurricane watches have been issued from Cameron in Louisiana to the Mississippi/Alabama border, an area that includes New Orleans. Storm surge watches have been issued from Sabine Pass in Louisiana to the Alabama/Florida border.
Five storms have already hit the United States in 2021 as climate change fuels extreme weather around the globe.
Wildfires are threatening Lake Tahoe, California, and have forced the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to close for the first time since 1976. Blazes are raging across southern Europe, including in Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. Flooding and mudslides killed at least 20 people this week in Venezuela. July was the hottest month on record.
Oil giants are bracing for the storm.
BP said it is evacuating workers from four platforms in the area and shutting production. Equinor is preparing to evacuate its offshore Titan platform, and Royal Dutch Shell is moving to disconnect its offshore facility FPSO Turritella and sail it to safer waters. Exxon Mobil's Baton Rouge refinery is beginning its hurricane preparedness process and Chevron joins others in clearing non-essential workers from the region.
A storm ripping through the offshore oil and natural gas platforms, then hitting the Gulf of Mexico coast, could disrupt production and processing. The gulf is home to 16 per cent of US crude production, 2 per cent of its gas output, and 48 per cent of the nation's refining capacity.
Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug 29, 2005, as a major hurricane, and the storm went on to cause massive flooding in New Orleans that devastated the city and killed at least 1,800 people.
Once the storm forms there will be little to hold it back, according to Weather Tiger's Mr Truchelut.
Hurricanes thrive on warm water and many places in the gulf under its projected track have sea-surface temperatures from around 30 deg C.
Also, the storm could sweep over what is called the Loop Current, which is among the warmest and deepest water in the area.
"All the way to the coastline it has a lot of high-octane fuel," he said.
The storm will likely drop more than 20cm of rain across the Cayman Islands, western Cuba, and portions of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the centre said.
Some areas could get as much as 50cm, causing life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides. Jamaica could get as much as 40cm of rain.
The hurricane centre is also tracking two other potential storms: One east of Bermuda has a 50 per cent chance of becoming a storm in the next two days, while one between Africa and the Caribbean has a 60 per cent chance.
The centre is also tracking Tropical Storm Nora in the Pacific that is set to become a Category 1 hurricane and slam into Baja California near the resort city of Cabo San Lucas next week.
Before then, it will come perilously close to Mexico's west coast, where a hurricane watch has been issued from Lazaro Cardenas to Cabo Corrientes. Heavy rain could touch off life-threatening mudslides in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima and Jalisco.