As of 1 p.m. ET Sunday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami had issued a hurricane warning along the Gulf Coast from Cameron, Louisiana, near the Texas border east to the Alabama-Florida border (Gulf Coast map). The warning means that, within the next 24 hours, this area probably will experience winds of at least 74 miles (119 kilometers) an hour.
Chris Sisko, a meteorologist at the hurricane center, said Gustav's eye is expected to bring a storm surge of 12 to 16 feet (3.6 to 4.8 meters) wherever the hurricane makes landfall.
The storm surge threat and the high winds have raised concerns among New Orleans and state officials about possible severe flooding in the city. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has issued a mandatory evacuation order, reportedly prompting at least a million residents to flee the city.
Flooding concerns are exacerbated by memories of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Katrina's winds and storm surge caused breaks in New Orleans levees that resulted in catastrophic flooding in the city.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working since Katrina to repair and reinforce the system of levees that protect the below-sea-level city from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. But on Sunday the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that local officials are still worried about several weak spots in the system.
The newspaper also reported that the system has had "an unprecedented amount of improvements" since August 2005.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Gustav has already killed about 70 people during a trek across the Caribbean, which began August 25. The hurricane came ashore in western Cuba yesterday with winds of at least 150 miles (241 kilometers) an hour. The storm's passage across Cuba's mountains weakened Gustav considerably by the time it emerged into the Gulf of Mexico this morning.
But Gustav is expected to regain much of that strength as it moves across the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico—particularly the storm-fueling Loop Current—during the hurricane's run to the Louisiana coast.
Meanwhile, forecasters think the southern U.S. East Coast could be dealing with tropical storm Hanna later this week.
Gustav has impeded Hanna's development, but Hanna could begin to strengthen and move north toward the Carolinas as Gustav moves out of the picture, Blackwell said.
Willie Drye is author of Storm of the Century: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES