Hurricane Laura has continued intensifying today, now reaching Category 4 major hurricane status, with sustained winds of 140 mph or higher. Laura is expected to continue strengthening a little more and maintain Cat 4 strength to landfall by forecasters, while they still warn of a potentially “catastrophic” storm surge for the Gulf Coast region.
The forecast for hurricane Laura is now for a Category 4, major hurricane landfall along the Gulf Coast tonight local time, with the NHC’s cone of uncertainty still centred on the border of Louisiana and Texas.
Update, 10:00 BST, Weds Aug 26th:
Hurricane Laura has now strengthened to sustained winds of 110 mph and the latest update from the NHC warns that hurricane Laura is now forecast to reach Category 4 strength later today, which would give the storm sustained winds of more than 130 mph.
The NHC said, “Laura is forecast to become a category 4 hurricane today, and is expected to be a major hurricane at landfall.”
At 110 mph sustained winds and higher gusts, hurricane Laura is almost a Category 3 major storm, the first of the 2020 season. But at 130 mph the level of damage experienced in the landfall region could be significantly greater, especially if Laura maintains Cat 4 status through to impact with land.
The minimum central pressure has dropped further to 973 mb. Hurricane force winds now extend outwards up to 70 miles from the center of Laura, as the storm continues to expand, also threatening wider impacts to land.
Storm surge maximums have also been increased, with now up to 15 feet expected in the worst affected coastal region.
12:30 BST update: The latest forecast model runs continue to center on the state border region, with meteorologists saying the chances of a shift west towards Houston have lessened, although the threat does remain.
12:50 BST update: Hurricane Laura has been upgraded to a major Category 3 storm, with sustained winds of 115 mph.
Central pressure has dropped again to 963 mb, signalling further intensification is possible and Category 4 looks highly likely at this stage.
16:00 BST update: Hurricane Laura has continued to intensify throughout the day and the storms maximum sustained winds have now reached 125 mph, according to the NHC, just short of Category 4 strength.
Laura is expected to strengthen further and the NHC warns of an “extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane” bringing “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding” to the Gulf Coast region.
Hurricane Laura’s minimum central pressure has dropped again to 956 mb and the storm continues to show all the signs of one that could intensify further.
Laura’s hurricane-force winds continue to extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km).
Storm surge inundation forecasts have worsened again, with heights of up to 20 feet now deemed possible.
The NHC warns of the following storm surge levels:
– Johnson Bayou LA to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge including Calcasieu Lake…15-20 ft
– Sea Rim State Park TX to Johnson Bayou LA including Sabine Lake…10-15 ft
– Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge to Intracoastal City LA…10-15 ft
– Intracoastal City LA to Morgan City including Vermilion Bay…8-12 ft
– Port Bolivar TX to Sea Rim State Park…6-9 ft
– Morgan City LA to Mouth of the Mississippi River…4-7 ft
– Freeport TX to Port Bolivar including Galveston Bay…2-4 ft
– Mouth of the Mississippi River to Ocean Springs MS including Lake Borgne…2-4 ft
– Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas…2-4 ft
Given the region most likely to be impacted by hurricane Laura is so low-lying, a storm surge of 15 to 20 feet could penetrate miles inland in places, causing a disastrous situation for those in the path.
19:00 BST update: Hurricane Laura has now reached Category 4 status with winds of 140 mph and higher gusts. The NHC warns that Laura could strengthen some more and is forecast to maintain Cat 4 status through to landfall, after which weakening will occur.
Storm surge forecasts remain as per the above update and impacts are expected to be catastrophic across a wide region of the landfall area, given hurricane Laura’s significant size.
Tropical storm force winds and gusts nearing hurricane force are already being experienced on the coastline, with hours of this to come and a significant degradation of conditions expected over the coming hours as large Cat 4 hurricane Laura approaches.
22:00 BST update: The latest NHC update has hurricane Laura’s sustained winds even higher at 145 mph now, with minimum central pressure down to 947 mb.
While forecasts for storm surge depth haven’t changed, the NHC is now warning the surge could push inland for an astonishing 40 miles, “Unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Calcasieu and Sabine Lakes. This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm.”
But many forecasters still point to the chance of a shift slightly west and a landfall between Galveston Bay, Texas and the Louisiana border.
The closer to Galveston Bay hurricane Laura comes, the greater the potential for insurance and reinsurance market losses, as well as impacts to insurance-linked securities (ILS) positions supporting reinsurance and retrocession contracts it seems, given the higher exposure values in the region as well as the particular exposure to storm surge impacts there.
Forecasters warn of some potentially deadly impacts for the Texas and Louisiana coastal regions where hurricane Laura is set to come ashore.
NOAA said that sustained hurricane force winds could be felt well inland across the western Louisiana and far southeastern Texas region, possibly causing widespread wind damage and power outages. Laura is now carrying sustained winds of 105 mph and higher gusts.
Also of consideration is hurricane Laura’s size, as a storm with hurricane force winds extending up to 55 miles and tropical storm force winds 175 miles, from its centre, the damaging wind impacts will be spread across a very wide area as the hurricane comes onshore and will begin as it approaches.
Hurricane Laura’s minimum central pressure has begun to drop, 978 mb at the last reading. But some forecasters believe rapid intensification and deepening is now possible and that hurricane Laura could see its central pressure dropping a lot further by landfall, which would signify a more intense and potentially damaging storm.
Warnings for storm surges are significant, with up to 14 foot expected in places, while more widely between 4 and 11 foot is likely across a wide swathe of coastline, given the size of hurricane Laura.
Because of the low-lying nature of the region of the Texas to Louisiana border, the NHC now warns of potentially catastrophic storm surge that is expected to penetrate inland for some miles.
The map below shows peak storm surge forecasts for hurricane Laura across the Gulf Coast region:
Rainfall expectations have also lifted overnight, as hurricane Laura intensified, with now maximum amounts of up to 15 inches forecast, with 5 to 10 inches of rain expected widely in the area, definitely sufficient for flooding.
While water driven damages are often the driver of loss of life and significant damages, the wind damage threat should not be underestimated with hurricane Laura, given its size and the expectation for further intensification.
The NHC warns, “Significant strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours, and Laura is expected to be a major hurricane at landfall.”
Laura is not the slowing moving hurricane though, at a roughly 17 mph pace right now, which we can be thankful for, as a slower moving storm can exacerbate damages by sitting on regions and bringing devastating winds for longer periods of time.
Modelled intensity guidance for tropical storm Laura can be seen below (from TropicalTidbits.com), demonstrating the wide range in model determination from a Cat 4 hurricane Laura to barely a Cat 1:
Hurricane Laura is almost assured to be a significant insurance, reinsurance and also insurance-linked securities (ILS) market loss, given its strength and the expectation for more intensification before landfall.
Sources in the reinsurance market are already talking industry loss estimates that range from $10 billion to $20 billion, with landfall location a significant factor in how high this could be.
A shift west towards Galveston Bay and therefore hurricane force winds over Houston, Texas could bring a higher industry loss for the reinsurance and ILS sector to deal with, while continuing to target the wetlands and less highly populated border regions could be the lower-end, or even below that as some scenarios that show a Cat 2 Laura coming ashore in the wetlands regions indicate a mid single digit billion insured loss.
Should hurricane Laura get to intensify even further, with a more westerly shift that allows the storm to spend more time over the Gulf of Mexico, then there is the potential for loss expectations to be increased.
Laura threatens the greatest impact to lives, livelihoods and property, with the ramifications for insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) interests potentially much higher as well, of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season so far.
The threat to catastrophe bonds remains less certain, given the majority are calibrated to respond to high industry losses in the region hurricane Laura is targeting, but the threat has certainly risen along with Laura’s winds.
The coming day will be challenging for insurance, reinsurance and ILS markets, with it being now or never to arrange last minute hedging capacity, if you need it.
We’re told by broking sources that live cat interest has been seen at industry loss levels of between $10 billion and $20 billion yesterday.
We expect this forecast for intensification may result in some trades today, as the outlook for Laura has not improved at all and a $15 billion or $20 billion industry loss trigger in ILW form seems a likely place for any trading negotiations to begin.
We’ll keep you updated over the course of today and you can track the tropics over at our dedicated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season page.