Update as of 2 am Sunday: Hurricane Ida intensified into a major category 3 hurricane early Sunday morning, according to data from Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft.
Original story posted Saturday evening: Hurricane Ida is poised to rapidly intensify before landfall in Louisiana late Sunday. The National Hurricane Center expects the storm to reach category 4 strength and produce "life-threatening storm surge, potentially catastrophic wind damage, and flooding rainfall" across the northern Gulf Coast.
Indirect impacts, such as periods of heavy rain, gusty winds, and isolated tornadoes will be possible as far east as Florida's Emerald Coast Sunday and Monday. Minor coastal flooding, high surf, and beach erosion is also expected along all shorelines of the Florida Panhandle, where the risk of rip currents will remain high through Tuesday.
A burst of intensification was noted by satellite and NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft data Saturday as Hurricane Ida moved through the Gulf of Mexico, and as of 8 pm EDT maximum winds were at 105 mph. Warm sea surface temperatures, abundant available moisture, and relatively light winds aloft all suggest Ida will intensify further until the center comes ashore in southeast Louisiana late Sunday. There is high confidence on both the track and intensify forecast with Ida, with potentially devastating impacts to the Louisiana cities of Morgan City, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Significant hazards will also spread farther to the east across the coastlines of Mississippis and Alabama as Ida comes ashore.
Outer rain bands from Hurricane Ida are likely to begin approaching Florida's Emerald Coast and Pensacola as early as Sunday morning. As some limited sunshine destabilizes the atmosphere a bit more farther east, additional rain squalls are likely to develop and intensify near Panama City and Tallahassee by late Sunday afternoon, potentially stretching as far south as the Nature Coast, Tampa and Sarasota by early evening.
Isolated tornadoes will be possible in the strongest cells associated with Ida's aforementioned outer rain bands Sunday, especially near and west of Tallahassee. The tornado risk may continue in some of these areas Tuesday.
A Flash Flood Watch has been issued for Escamba, Santa Rosa and coastal Okaloosa counties in Florida through Tuesday morning. In these locations, rain bands will be more persistent Sunday night and Monday, closer to where Ida's center of circulation moves inland. Rainfall accumulations of 4 to 6 inches are expected in the watch area, with locally higher amounts up to 8 inches possible. Rainfall accumulations of 8 to 16 inches are expected closer to where the center of Hurricane Ida tracks through southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
A life-threatening storm surge of 10 to 15 feet above normally dry ground is expected at times of high tide from Morgan City, LA to the Mouth of the Mississippi River. The water inundation is likely to be 5 to 8 feet in Lake Pontchartrain and 4 to 7 feet east to the Mississippi-Alabama border. A water rise of 2 to 4 feet is possible farther east to the Alabama-Florida border, with 1 to 3 feet possible near Pensacola and along the Emerald Coast.
Significant wind damage and widespread power outages are expected across southeast Louisiana, where hurricane warnings are in effect. Sporadic outages and minor wind damage are possible east of across portions of coastal Mississippi and Alabama, where tropical storm warnings have been issued. An occasional wind gust to 40 or 50 mph cannot be ruled out in the Florida Panhandle from Ida, but it would be more isolated and primarily associated with the heavier outer rain bands.
Hurricane Ida is expected to weaken rapidly after landfall, but still be capable of producing rough seas and heavy rain bands across the Florida Panhandle Monday and Tuesday. The remnant moisture feed on the storm's eastern side is also likely to move back in the direction of Florida Tuesday, leading to higher-than-normal rain chances across north and central sections of the state through Wednesday.
Updates on Hurricane Ida, including the latest advisory and any urgent alerts related to the storm, are available in the Florida Storms mobile app. This is a free download from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.