Tropical Storm Ida a Hurricane Menace to New Orleans

MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Ida intensified as it swirled toward a strike on Cuba on Friday, showing hallmarks of a rare, rapidly intensifying storm that could speed across warm Gulf waters and slam into Louisiana as a major hurricane on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center warned.

“The forecast track has it headed straight towards New Orleans. Not good,” said NOAA’s Jim Kossin, a climate and hurricane scientist.

Ida posed a relatively low threat to tobacco-rich western Cuba, where forecasters predicted a glancing blow on Friday. The real danger begins over the Gulf, where forecasts were aligned in predicting Ida will strengthen very quickly into a major hurricane before landfall in the area of the Mississippi River delta late Sunday or early Monday, experts said.

“Ida certainly has the potential to be very bad,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “It will be moving quickly, so the trek across the Gulf from Cuba to Louisiana will only take 1.5 days.”

Friday morning, Ida’s maximum sustained winds swiftly rose from 45 mph (75 kph) to 60 mph (95 (kph) as it moved away from Grand Cayman toward Cuba’s Isle of Youth at about 15 mph (24 kph). Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the center.