Hurricane Ida, which forecasters expect to make landfall on coastal Louisiana Sunday evening as a life-threatening Category 4 storm, poses a significant threat to the New Orleans metropolitan area, according to weather officials.
As mandatory evacuations were ordered for parts of the city, the New Orleans Saints NFL team said it would leave for Dallas on Saturday. The action was first reported by the Times-Picayune.
Terrebonne Parish officials ordered residents south of the Morganza levee system to evacuate effective Saturday at noon. An evacuation shelter at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center was expected to open Saturday night, they said in a statement.
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.
Ida had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph with higher gusts Friday evening as it passed over western Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm will move into the Gulf of Mexico Saturday.
"What I can tell you is Hurricane Ida is rapidly intensifying and the situation is changing, it seems, by the hour," Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference Friday evening.
The governor said he spoke to hurricane center forecasters who told him Ida's rapid intensification is happening "faster than expected."
"The next 24 hours are very, very important. Now is the time to finish your preparations," Bel Edwards said. "By nightfall tomorrow night, you need to be where you intend to ride out the storm and you need to be postured as you would want to be as the storm approaches you."
A National Weather Service forecaster said gusts could reach 170 mph.
“This is stronger than Laura from last year," he said. "This will be a life-altering storm for those who aren’t prepared to take what Ida is going to throw at us later this weekend.”
Matthew Jewell, president of St. Charles Parish, west of New Orleans, ordered a mandatory evacuation of the parish's roughly 50,000 residents no later than 5 p.m. Saturday.
Ida is expected to wallop the northern Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm on Sunday with maximum winds of 140 mph, according to forecasters — 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.
"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, New Orleans' director of emergency preparedness.
The Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi coasts were under storm surge warnings, and Louisiana's coast was under a hurricane warning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
After moving over the Isle of Youth and western Cuba, the storm is expected to head toward the southeastern and central Gulf of Mexico before hitting the Gulf Coast.
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 hurricane center.
From Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the water could rise to 11 feet, the National Weather Service said, adding that overtopping of levees was "possible."
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 occur 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.