Satellite image
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
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.

Adair tweet

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
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
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).

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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, 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. As a person who is now evacuated from Lake Charles La.
    Our homes, are
    destroyed, our Churches are destroyed.
    Lake Charles, Sulphur we are basically having to rebuild 2 cities.

  2. How the “F” is a 95 mph sustained wind hurricane the 5th most powerful? The Saffir-Simpson scale is measured by sustained winds. Even a 100 mph is a weak Category 2 storm.

    1. Eric, maybe the next time we have a hurricane, I’ll invite you to come stay the night.
      You might have some respect for the storm. The next day.

      I have thru been thru Several hurricanes Celia in Corpus Christ Tx.
      I been thru Ritia, Ike, lily .
      Also a couple in Jacksonville Fl.

      Mother Nature can be a total (B) at times.

  3. can someone post the link to where everyone is at? I signed up for Disqus but cant find the comments section on it. thanks

  4. The phrase “strongest on record” is quite the caveat.
    Seeing as records of hurricanes by actual real wind speed and rainfall measurements are concerned really are a science of less than 100 odd years.
    So to repair the headline and make it less histerical and overeactive it should say either
    “Fifth Strongest Hurricane in 100 years of Record Keeping”

    Any other way plays into the idiot normalcy bias wheras the average dupe trudging ymto work each day hears the 5th worst and lives in the false paradigm that accurate records extend back much further than thet actually do.
    This us why it is so easy to fool tue average dupes including college indoctrinated foils.
    You all really can not see the forest for thr trees.
    Another article on this site which has no comment section goes on and on about carbon dioxide pollution.
    If any of you cam figure out how carbon dioxide is a pollutant to plants and trees, please feel free and explain.
    The fact is, we should be producing MORE CO2 to increase te greening of thd planet which will allow faster growth of all plant life with less water.
    If we were to keep increasinh co2 levels to ancient levels it is possible to return the deserts to rain forests, and turn the entire planet into a water cloud shrouded rain forest with a uniersally higher temperature.
    If the entire planet was just 10 degrees warmer heating bills and warm clothes-evrrything associated with the costs of dealing with cold weather could be elominated.
    Etc etc etc

  5. Part II: Based on Google Earth aerials compared to the video, it is obvious some structures did not make it. Specifically those built on slab even where that slab was obviously constructed on a minor raised elevation of earth. An example is the slab seen at 2:19 in the video which corresponds with the former home located at 1507 Marshall Street. Of the 2 clean slabs visible at 2:22, the one located upper left was already clear before the hurricane while the one upper center was the site of a pre-fab home that was destroyed.
    In addition, several mobile homes appear to be in new locations thanks to Laura. More surprising (at least to me) are the number of mobile homes that remain elevated on piles. Maybe mobile home construction has advanced greatly over the past decade, but I assumed these “structures”, even if safely elevated above the surge, would have suffered catastrophic damage in all instances.

    1. “Maybe mobile home construction has advanced greatly over the past decade, but I assumed these “structures”, even if safely elevated above the surge, would have suffered catastrophic damage in all instances.”

      Actually, construction has advanced greatly, many exceeding construction expectations comparable to that of an on-site brick home. These advances (most being standard) include, but are not limited to, standard 2″x6″ exterior walls, the highest available ceiling and floor insulation, radiant barriers, tongue and groove sub-floors, thermal pane windows and overhead air ducts. While most of these advances are more geared toward energy efficiency in the sweltering Gulf Coast region, the structural upgrades of these homes cannot be ignored. While there are many who opt to have their homes put on concrete runners or a simple house pad, you might be surprised to find out that in the last 10 years, the number of people who have their home anchored to a concrete foundation has gone up exponentially.

      I’m not sure if you’re familiar with zone ratings. I honestly wasn’t until I began the process of purchasing my first home. Wind zones are determined by the amount of wind pressure in an area. The higher the possible wind pressure in an area, the higher rate of the wind zone. So, if you live in an area that is a designated Wind Zone IV, then you live in an area with the highest wind speeds.Most places in Louisiana that I am familiar with, require that you have a home that meets your Wind Zone or you cannot obtain a permit. Additionally, in 2014, an IBHS test found that manufactured homes performed better at high winds than site-built homes.

      The driving distance from my home to Cameron, LA is 101 miles directly south. Lake Charles, LA is only 45 miles south of my home. We were very fortunate in this event. My father, all but two co-workers of my husband, my daughter, and a lifelong friend (only naming people I know personally) all suffered a total loss. Now, I understand that your comments on the matter are purely based on the presumed factual information that we receive from credible sources, such as the Nation Weather Center, etc., so please don’t interpret my reply with any sort of defensiveness or “matter of fact” sarcasm because that is certainly not the case.This is strictly from one analytic to another. In this particular article, the following is stated:

      “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.”

      I know BETA instruments are rarely given real consideration, and this comes with good reasoning. There’s nothing I can’t stand more than the spread of false information, but in all my years of living in Southwest Louisiana, I’ve never seen anything like this (and I live in the middle of the area that experienced the unprecedented tornado outbreak in late 2019-early 2020). I hate it for the people of Cameron Parish, I really do, but what happened during Hurricane Laura is not a new experience in that area. In fact, after Hurricane Rita, while helicopters were trying to assess the damages, the only way they could identify where the city of Cameron used to be, was when they finally realized that the plumbing showing through a small concrete slab was what was left of the local forestry station.The residents here understand this treat, but what most people in other parts of the country don’t realize is that this is our home. Our way of life. In order to really love something, you have to take the good with the bad.

      My daughter lives in Lake Charles. In fact, she was born during a hurricane in Lake Charles. They evacuated two days before the storm hit due to an order by the city. Even as a category 4 hurricane, they expected minimal damage in their area. I mean, we all did. Anyway, long story a bit shorter…Hurricane Laura may have missed her opportunity for storm surge at the ship channel, but that put us in the path of her northeast eyewall. To illustrate the untold power of this storm, I’ll share this information. In Lake Charles, LA, pilings were being pulled from the ground (average size for pilings are 12″-18″ square and are driven between 15′-20′ deep). 45 miles north, where I live (and already downgraded to a very strong category 2), the force of Hurricane Laura was still pulling light poles from the ground in concrete parking lots and reaping havoc on everything in her path as she headed north, leaving a trail that looked more like the presence of a tornado than a hurricane.

      I think over the years, many have grown accustomed to defining a hurricane by it’s rainfall and floods, but that is absolutely not the case. A hurricane is measured by wind strength and intensity. We must remember this. As far as storm preparations go, I don’t there was anything more that anyone could have done to prepare for this. Evacuations definitely saved lives and as far as record keeping and history goes, this was the strongest hurricane in our lifetime; something that even our elders haven’t experienced. So when everything was all said and done, I feel like those in her path should take great pride in the lessons we have learned in our history books and at the hands of negligent local leaders. We’ve lost many homes and many jobs thanks to destroyed businesses, but we have saved many lives, and that is most valuable. As far as everything else? It’s just stuff.

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