Hurricane Nate intensifies as it takes aim at vulnerable Gulf Coast


Infrared satellite view of Hurricane Nate as it intensified on Saturday morning.
Infrared satellite view of Hurricane Nate as it intensified on Saturday morning.

Image: noaa/College of dupage

It’s hard to believe that we’re talking about another hurricane making landfall in the U.S., following the devastating trio of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. But, here we are. This time, the storm — Hurricane Nate — is a small, potent, and fast-moving weather system that is racing toward landfall in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama on Saturday night. 

The storm has been intensifying steadily since Friday, becoming a hurricane overnight. Since it’s still sweeping across the mild waters of the Gulf of Mexico, continued intensification is likely, and it’s possible that Hurricane Nate will make landfall as a Category 2 storm.

Hurricane warnings along with storm surge warnings are in effect from coastal Louisiana eastward into the Florida Panhandle. While Hurricane Nate is significantly weaker, particularly as measured by wind speed, than the monstrous Category 4 and 5 storms that have decimated areas such as Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys this season, it still poses life-threatening risks. 

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Nate in the Gulf of Mexico.

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Nate in the Gulf of Mexico.

The area where the center of the storm is forecast to come ashore — between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama — is prone to major storm surge flooding during tropical storms and even weak hurricanes. Data from Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that the strongest winds are confined to the eastern side of the storm, which will help maximize the storm surge potential.

Hurricane Nate will be nearing landfall around the time of high tide on Saturday night, likely bringing hurricane force onshore winds to the Gulf Coast at that time, thereby increasing the coastal flood threat.

Storm surge inundation map for Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. Orange corresponds to greater than 6 feet of water above ground level, while red corresponds to greater than 9 feet.

Storm surge inundation map for Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. Orange corresponds to greater than 6 feet of water above ground level, while red corresponds to greater than 9 feet.

Storm surge inundation map for Mobile, Alabama. Orange corresponds to greater than 6 feet of water above ground level, while red corresponds to greater than 9 feet.

Storm surge inundation map for Mobile, Alabama. Orange corresponds to greater than 6 feet of water above ground level, while red corresponds to greater than 9 feet.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting a reasonable worst-case scenario for storm surge flooding of at least 5 to 9 feet of water above ground in parts of coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with lower amounts of 4 to 6 feet in coastal southern Louisiana. Flooding is also likely well to the east of the storm center, including in Pensacola, Florida, because of the strong onshore winds that will pile water onto the coast. 

Unlike with Hurricane Harvey, this storm is absolutely roaring ahead, traveling at about 20 miles per hour. This will limit the heavy rainfall potential, though upwards of 10 inches of rain could still fall in some locations. The storm’s rapid movement also means that tropical storm-force winds are likely to extend well inland on Sunday and Sunday night, potentially all the way to Atlanta.

After Hurricane Nate makes landfall on Saturday night or early Sunday, it will weaken as it moves northeast, eventually bringing heavy rain all the way to Maine by the middle of the week. 

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