Ida, which poses a significant threat to New Orleans, makes landfall as hurricane in Cuba

Ida, which is expected to reach Louisiana on Sunday evening and poses a significant threat to New Orleans, strengthened to a hurricane on Friday shortly before making landfall on the Isle of Youth in Cuba.

Ida had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with higher gusts Friday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm will continue to move over western Cuba on Friday and head into the Gulf of Mexico Saturday.

The storm is expected to wallop the northern Gulf Coast at or near major hurricane strength on Sunday — 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana as a devastating Category 3 storm. Warm water temperatures in the Gulf will help the storm to intensify, forecasters said.

The region will likely be under a hurricane warning later Friday, the center said. A hurricane watch was already issued for parts of the coasts of Alabama and Louisiana.

New Orleans could take a particularly bad hit. The city’s mayor, LaToya Cantrell, on Friday ordered mandatory evacuations for residents in low-lying areas outside of the city’s levee system. She also called for voluntary evacuations inside the levee system.

With tropical storm conditions on track to arrive in the region late Saturday afternoon, officials said those who need to evacuate should do so immediately.

“August 29th is a very critical date in our city’s history and in all of our memories, that date taught us to be ready and resilient and that’s what we will do together,” said Collin Arnold, the city’s director of emergency preparedness.

After moving over the Isle of Youth and wester cuba, the storm is expected to head toward the southeastern and central Gulf of Mexico before hitting the Gulf Coast.

A hurricane warning was in effect Friday for the Isle of Youth, and the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.

Southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama could get up to 16 inches of rain, with some areas seeing 20 inches through Monday morning.

And “the combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” according to the center.

From Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the water could rise to 11 feet.

“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves,” the National Weather Service said.

The east side of New Orleans on Lake Borgne should expect 7 to 11 feet. The city’s floodwalls will be tested against the surge, while its water pumps will be tasked with draining the rainfall.

The Weather Service said overtopping of local levees was “possible.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday issued a state of emergency. On Friday, he requested a pre-landfall Federal Declaration of Emergency, and said 12 parishes had already declared their own states of emergency.

“Unfortunately, Louisiana is forecast to get a direct, strong hit from Tropical Storm Ida, which could make landfall as a major hurricane, a category 3, which is compounded by our current fourth surge of COVID-19,” Edwards said. “This is an incredibly challenging time for our state.”

“The people of Louisiana have been tested time and time again, and while it is my hope and prayer that this storm will not bring destruction to our state, we should be prepared to take the brunt of the severe weather,” he added. “By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm.”

Louisiana Comic Con, which was scheduled to be held in Lafayette on Aug. 28 and 29, was canceled due to the incoming storm.

”Although it’s always a tough decision to cancel an event, the impending weather is a concern for a multitude of reasons,” said Greg Hanks, one of the owners of the company putting on the event. “We don’t want to shrug off the warnings being issued and surely don’t want anyone stuck and unable to make it home.”

The mayor of Grand Isle, a Louisiana town on a narrow barrier island in the Gulf, called for a voluntary evacuation late Thursday ahead of Ida and said a mandatory evacuation would take effect Friday.

“Ida certainly has the potential to be very bad,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

Ida joins a list of “I” named storms — Irma, Ike, Ivan — that were some of the more historically damaging hurricanes. This is because “I” named storms typically happen at peak hurricane season when the atmospheric ingredients favor strong tropical cyclones and the steering patterns favor landfalls. Eleven “I” names have been retired, the most of any other alphabetical letter on record.

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