A westward shift overnight in Tropical Storm Sally's path has put metro New Orleans in the center of the forecast track for a storm that's expected to be a slow-moving, strengthening Category 2 hurricane at landfall, the National Hurricane Center said.
The track shifted in the 4 a.m. update about 40 miles west, and Sally is projected to come ashore sometime early Tuesday in Barataria Bay with top winds of 100 mph and then curve north into metro New Orleans and move over Lake Pontchartrain and over the north shore, still with top winds of 80 mph.
This new path just west of the Mississippi River is one that forecasters and local emergency managers have warned is the most dangerous to the New Orleans area because it puts it on the east side of the storm's eye, where the highest winds and greatest storm surge occurs.
Mandatory evacuations, beginning this morning, have been issued for Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish, the entire east bank of Plaquemines Parish, and the Plaquemines West Bank from the Alliance Refinery to Venice. Voluntary evacuations are in effect from the Oakville floodgate to the Alliance Refinery on the West Bank.
"Because of the high tides on LA Hwy 1 this would cause some difficulties in leaving the island," said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, in a news release announcing the island's 9 a.m. evacuation.
The following watches and warnings are in effect locally:
-- Storm surge warning: Port Fourchon to the Mississippi/Alabama border, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lake Borgne
-- A hurricane warning: Grand Isle to Ocean Springs, Miss., including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metro New Orleans. The warning also includes Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. James parishes.
-- Storm surge watch: Mississippi/Alabama border to the Alabama/Florida border
NHC forecasters said in their Sunday morning update that there's increasing confidence and concern about Sally slowing down considerably at and during landfall.
"Unfortunately, confidence is increasing that Sally's expected slow forward speed near the Gulf Coast will exacerbate the storm surge and heavy rainfall threats," the agency said.
"It is worth noting that rapid intensification is a possibility if the system develops a more solid inner core on Monday," said Senior Hurricane Specialist Eric Blake in a 4 a.m. forecast discussion message. He warned that some models have been predicting such a rapid increase in the storm's power. An increase of 15 mph in the present predicted top wind speed would make Sally a Category 3 storm at landfall.
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