Hurricane Ida could slam into Louisiana just shy of Category 5

Hurricane Ida picks up steam in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.
(Image credit: CIRA/NOAA)

Hurricane Ida is already lashing the coast of southeastern Louisiana with winds reaching 150 mph (240 km/h) and life-threatening storm surge, as the Category 4 storm gets closer to landfall. 

The hurricane is expected to slam into southeastern Louisiana in the next few hours, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said

The storm would be the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2021 season to make landfall on U.S. soil, Accuweather reported. And if Ida strengthens even a little, its maximum sustained winds could reach Category 5 status, which is 156 mph (251 km/h) on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

"Some additional strengthening is forecast, and Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it makes landfall along the Louisiana coast," the NHC said in its morning statement.

As of 7 a.m. CDT (8 a.m. EDT), Ida was about 50 miles (85 kilometers) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Houma, Louisiana. The massive storm is moving in the northwest direction at about 15 mph (24 km/h). 

Related: The 20 costliest, most destructive hurricanes to hit the US 

The center of Ida is expected to make landfall late this morning or early this afternoon, before moving well inland over parts of Louisiana and western Mississippi on Monday (Aug. 30), the NHC said.

"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion today in the warning area along the northern Gulf Coast," the National Hurricane Center said in a statement on Saturday (Aug. 28). 

The NHC put out a hurricane warning for areas from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the Mouth of the Pearl River, also in Louisiana, as well as around Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and Metropolitan New Orleans. 

Though New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell had called for mandatory evacuations around the levee system there, the state governor, John Bel Edwards, along with the National Weather Service, said there was no time to organize such an evacuation, Accuweather reported. Instead, Cantrell is now advising residents to voluntarily evacuate or "hunker down," according to Accuweather. 

Though high winds and heavy rainfall can wreak havoc on storm-hit areas, storm surge is often the most dangerous part of a hurricane, forecasters have said. If the peak storm surge coincides with high tide, the water in some places could reach dramatic heights. If that does occur, expect a surge of 12 to 16 feet (3.7 to 4.9 meters) from Port Fourchon, Louisiana, to the mouth of the Mississippi River. From Morgan City, Louisiana, a Port Fourchon, surges could reach 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.7 m) in height, the NHC said. 

Read here to learn more about how to prepare for potential hurricane conditions. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.