Visible GOES-16 satellite image of Hurricane Laura at sunset on Wednesday, August 26. At the time, Laura was at peak strength, a category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. (Image credit: NOAA/RAMMB)

Hurricane Laura hit western Louisiana with a devastating blow at 2 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 27, 2020, making landfall as a category 4 storm with 150 mph winds with sustained winds. In terms of winds, Laura tied with the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest land-falling hurricane in Louisiana history, and tied as the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to make a continental U.S. landfall. (Note that the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale does not account for storm surge, only peak sustained wind.)

Laura rapidly intensified by a remarkable 65 mph in just 24 hours on August 26. That ties Hurricane Karl of 2010 for fastest intensification rate in the Gulf of Mexico on record. In the 24 hours prior to landfall, Laura’s winds increased by 45 mph, and the hurricane made landfall with a pressure of 938 mb, ranking as the fourth-strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana by that metric.

Figure 1. Radar image of Hurricane Laura at landfall in western Louisiana at 12:53 a.m. EDT August 27.. (Image credit: Weather Underground, an IBM company).

A new satellite-based wind measurement instrument, a Synthetic Aperture Radar carried by the Sentinel-1A satellite, measured surface winds of 198 mph in Laura’s northeast eyewall at 8:10 p.m. EDT Wednesday. This wind may not have been representative of Laura’s sustained winds, however.

The highest winds reported at an airport were at Lake Charles, Louisiana: sustained winds of 98 mph and a gust to 132 mph. A University of Florida observing tower reported sustained winds of 95 mph and a gust to 132 mph. A Weatherflow site in Cameron, Louisiana, reported sustained wind of 92 mph and a gust to 117 mph in the southern eyewall of Laura after the eye passed overhead. Lake Charles measured a pressure of 959.4 mb in the eye of Laura, the city’s lowest pressure on record (previous record: 971 mb during Hurricane Audrey on June 27, 1957, according to Chris Burt). Storm chasers Josh Morgerman, Reed Timmer, Mark Sudduth, and Jeff Piotrowski all captured dramatic footage of Laura’s impact.

A fire erupted on Thursday morning at a chemical plant near Interstate 10 in Lake Charles. In addition, many windows were smashed at one of the city’s largest buildings, the 22-story Capital One Tower, and other wind damage was widespread across the city. The NEXRAD radar unit at the National Weather Service office at the Lake Charles airport was destroyed by Laura’s winds (see image).

The Laura storm surge tracking page from the Trabus Technologies Storm Surge Live Tracker indicated that Calcasieu Pass in Cameron, Louisiana, which was in the eye, measured the highest storm surge from Laura: 8.9 feet, at 2 a.m. EDT Thursday. A higher storm surge may have occurred at the tide gauge at Freshwater Canal Locks, on the south-central coast of Louisiana, but the instrument had stopped transmitting data before the peak surge arrived.

The Calcasieu River at Saltwater Barrier (near downtown Lake Charles) produced only minor flooding as it crested at 4.86 feet, well below the predicted record crest of 15-plus feet. Since Laura’s center passed directly over Cameron and very close to Lake Charles, it appears the wind trajectory was not optimal for pushing large amounts of surge upriver toward the city. The surge could have been much higher at both locations had Laura made landfall just slightly further west, closer to the Texas/Louisiana border.

Figure 2. The eye of Hurricane Laura on August 26, when the storm was at category 3 strength. (Image credit: Lt. Rannenberg, NOAA/Aircraft Operations Center)

A hyperactive start to the Atlantic hurricane season

With two weeks to go until the typical mid-point of the Atlantic hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center has 13 named storms, four hurricanes, and one intense hurricane. As seen in this tweet from Colorado State University hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, this pace puts the 2020 season above-average in nearly all respects:

Laura is record-earliest seventh named storm of a season to hit U.S.

Laura is the seventh named storm to make landfall in the U.S. so far in 2020, setting a record for the earliest a seventh storm has made a U.S. landfall. Only two other hurricane seasons have had six U.S. landfalls by the end of August – 1886 and 1916. Here are the other Atlantic named storms in 2020 to hit the U.S., along with their preliminary damage estimates from insurance broker Aon and other sources:

  • Tropical Storm Marco in southeast Louisiana on August 24 (40 mph winds, no significant damage);
  • Hurricane Isaias near Wilmington, North Carolina, on August 3 (85 mph winds, over $4 billion in damage to the U.S.);
  • Hurricane Hanna in South Texas on July 25 (90 mph winds, $500 million in damage to the U.S. and Mexico);
  • Tropical Storm Fay in New Jersey on July 10 (50 mph winds, six deaths, $350 million in damage);
  • Tropical Storm Cristobal in Louisiana on June 7 (50 mph winds, one death, $325 million in damage); and
  • Tropical Storm Bertha in South Carolina on May 27 (50 mph winds, $200 million in damage).

The record for most U.S. landfalls in one year is nine, set in 1916; second place is jointly held by 2005, 2004, and 1985, each with eight. With hurricane season not yet half over, the 2020 season already ranks in fifth place for most U.S. named storm landfalls in one year. During the period 1851 – 2019, the U.S. averaged 3.2 named storm landfalls per year, 1.6 hurricane landfalls, and 0.5 major hurricane landfalls.

New tropical wave emerges from the coast of Africa

A tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on Wednesday night was headed west over the tropical Atlantic at about 20 mph. The system was at the edge of a large area of dry air associated with the Saharan Air Layer, and dry air will interfere with development through the weekend, as will moderate to high wind shear of 15 – 25 knots.

Satellite images showed that the wave had a modest amount of poorly organized heavy thunderstorm activity. When the wave approaches the Lesser Antilles Islands on Monday, it may find more moisture and lower wind shear, increasing odds of development.

None of the reliable tropical cyclone genesis models predicted that this wave would develop in the coming week. In a Thursday 8 a.m. EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave the wave two-day and five-day odds of formation of 0% and 20%, respectively. The next name on the Atlantic list of storms is Nana.

Figure 3. Natural-color VIIRS image of Typhoon Bavi at 04:35 Universal Time (1:35 p.m. local time) on August 25.. At the time, Bavi had maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, just below category 3 strength. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Typhoon Bavi hits North Korea

Tropical Storm Bavi made landfall in northern North Korea around 2 UTC Thursday, August 27 as a category 1 storm with 75 mph winds, as rated by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). The storm brought widespread impacts to the Korean Peninsula.

According to NOAA’s historical hurricanes database, North Korea has been hit by only one other typhoon in recorded history – Category 1 Typhoon Lingling in 2019. Bavi was able to travel unusually far to the north as a typhoon as a result of record – warm ocean temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) – more than two degrees Celsius (3.6°F) above average. The warm waters were largely the result of an intense heat wave that brought all-time record heat to northeast Asia in recent weeks. During the heatwave, Hamamatsu, Japan, on August 17 tied the record set in 2018 for hottest temperature ever measured in Japan – 41.1 degrees Celsius (106°F).

How climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous

The 0Z Thursday runs of the top three models for predicting tropical cyclone genesis – the European, UKMET, and GFS – all forecast that an area of disturbed weather in the waters south of Okinawa, designated 94W, will develop into Tropical Storm Maysak this weekend, and follow a path similar to Bavi’s, and thereby threaten the Korean Peninsula next week.

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Posted August 27, 2020, at 1:36 p.m. EDT.

Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...

83 replies on “‘Devastating’ Laura is tied as the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the continental U.S.”

  1. I’m currently in central Arkansas so that my granddaughters can do virtual school while their parents traipse off to their school district jobs. The tropical storm warning doesn’t get this far north, but Little Rock and to the south and west of Little Rock does have a tropical storm warning. Has that happened before? When, and what storm?

  2. Louisiana’s first fatality from Hurricane Laura has been reported as a 14-year-old girl, Governor John Bel Edwards said Thursday morning.
    Edwards said the girl died when a tree fell on her family’s home in Leesville. 
    Laura battered the Louisiana coast after making landfall around 1 a.m. Thursday as a Category 4 storm—making it the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana in 150 years. The maximum winds at landfall were 150 mph, and the storm’s pressure was recorded at 938 millibars.
    Windows were blown out of buildings, roofs were peeled from casinos, and tens of thousands were left without power.

  3. This Western Caribbean convection is under very low shear. There is a low level vort signature in the Gulf of Honduras. If this convection sustains throughout the day, we just might see another surprise outside of the two new invests further east. Latest satellite shows this W.Caribbean covection is really producing some cold cloud tops now. Thank you Dr. Masters for many great updates throughout Hurricane Marco and Laura. Dr. Henson as well.×1000.jpg

  4. Thanks Dr. Masters, it’s a busy season and your commentary is always needed. Glad Laura stayed east of the border and didn’t do even more significant damage than what I am seeing. Recovery will definitely take a while in that area. I hope we see nothing as strong as hurricane Laura for the rest of the season.

      1. yes Laura pushes up with the humid heat and a front pushing down with the first of the fall air

        a squeeze play

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