This may be premature by an hour or two, and if so, I’ll update again, but there is enough new information on Gustav to provide an update.
Gustav is now a Category Four Hurricane and is bearing down on Cuba. The hurricane will strike the northern Gulf coast as a serious, possibly major storm. I have heard from contacts in industry in the region that the presumption of a major hurricane is in effect and the shipping industry and other industries are in the process of shutting down. There are also news reports that I have not checked that LA Parishes in the vicinity are under mandatory evacuation, and I assume similar things are going on in neighboring areas. If you live along the coast and do not know what is going on please do find out ASAP.
Here are the salient and most current pieces of information you will want to know:
[UPDATE (4:30 PM eastern): The predictions I made below, more dire than what the NHC was making, have been confirmed by the most recent published discussion on Gustav. So I withdraw my “this is just me” saying this caveat.)
1) Short Term: The storm has a northward shift that is changing over to a nortwestward trajectory. This will bring the storm over Western Cuba over the next several hours, at a relatively slow speed (about 14 knots). As it flows over Western Cuba it will decrease in strength.
2) However, there is very warm water following that trajectory, so the storm will strengthen over open water.
Have a look:
Here you can see Gustav’s expected track over western Cuba. The red blob that the hurricane will then pass over will spin this storm up considerably. To not be terribly surprised if it becomes a Category Five hurricane at about 10:00 AM Sunday.
3) It is actually possible that this storm will reach Category Five strength over the next few hours before hitting Cuba (as I write this, the maximum sustained winds are being reported as much increased). (The NHC is not saying this, this is just me.) The intensity of most recent strengthening seems to be an unexpected turn of events, as this information is about 20 minutes old from a recent advisory, and is significantly more sever than predictions made this AM, just a few hours ago.
4) The National Hurricane Center information suggests that once Gustave has passed over, and presumably doing considerable damage to, Cuba, and restrengthens, that there should not be any significant weakening as the storm passes over the rest of the gulf. This means that Gustav would reach the northern Gulf Coast as a Category 4 or 5 storm.
5) The storm is still pretty much aimed at New Orleans or a bit to the west. Yes, there is a wide range of error on these predictions, but while yesterday the discussion coming from NHC indicated a fair degree of uncertainty, that has abated and now the models and the thumsucks are all lining up. The three day track of today, mid day, looks like the five day track of yesterday.
6) … this may be the most important point. The best available estimates show that the center of this storm may remain off shore, and to the left of (as the storm goes) the coast for several hours. This means two things: i) the biting edge of the storm will be on the New Orleans side of the center, after passing over the ocean. and ii) there could be a very, very large amount of water … like that you measure in feet rather than inches … falling form the sky as the ocean, the sky, and the nearby lowlands become one with each other.
What could be worse? A northerly shift and increase in speed that brings the biting edge of the storm near the eye, with the maximum storm surge, directly over the levees in New Orleans could be worse. Maybe. What could be better? The storm track gets wonky and Gustav does a few twists around in the western gulf and weakens before it lands anywhere.