Louisiana prepares for two storms less than 48 hours apart.
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said on Monday that the weakening of Tropical Storm Marco had eased concerns about the state being walloped by a pair of tropical storms in rapid succession, but he urged residents to maintain their vigilance as a second storm, Laura, followed close behind and was still expected to pack a considerable punch.
Marco, which was expected to make landfall on Monday afternoon, had been upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane this weekend before dissipating back to tropical storm strength. The National Hurricane Center said Monday that although Marco was no longer a hurricane, it could still bring dangerous storm surge and heavy rainfall to parts of the Gulf Coast.
Laura, which was bringing damaging wind and rain to parts of Cuba as it raked the southern coast of the island on Monday, was projected to intensify into a Category 2 hurricane this week as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico and batters the Louisiana coast. It was expected to make landfall late Wednesday.
“I guess if I’ve got a message, it’s not to assume that Laura is going to do a similar favor, and the forecast for Laura remains very much like it was yesterday,” Mr. Edwards said during a briefing on Monday, calling Laura a “significant storm.”
Still, he acknowledged a sense of relief by the changed forecast for Marco. On Sunday, he had warned of a “one-two punch” of storms barreling toward Louisiana, describing them as a rare and formidable challenge. But the forecast now, he said, was “markedly different than it was yesterday afternoon.”
“There’s no doubt that if that holds up,” he said of the updated forecast, “we’re going to catch a big break in terms of that storm not being a hurricane.”
Although preparing for tropical storms has become a matter of routine for much of coastal Louisiana, the dual threat had spurred a heightened sense of unease.
“Hurricane Marco and Tropical Storm Laura, combined with the pandemic, create a potential triple threat to Louisiana,” John Hawkins, a vice president overseeing distribution operations for Entergy Louisiana, an electric company, said in a statement. “This has been an unprecedented year for everyone, but I’m confident we have the resources and manpower necessary to successfully respond to what is another unique set of challenges.”
Cameron Parish in the southwestern part of Louisiana issued a mandatory evacuation order starting at 1 p.m. Monday. And in Port Arthur, Texas, near the border with Louisiana, the mayor, Thurman Bartie, told local news reporters that he plans to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the city effective at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
Parts of the city were already under a voluntary evacuation order on Monday, and the school district has canceled classes for Tuesday through Friday.
Brad Kieserman, the vice president for disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross, said it helps with relief efforts that the weaker storm is coming first.
“If the first hit you take is the lighter hit, you can prepare yourself for the harder hit,” Mr. Kieserman said in an interview. “That right hook that Marco is going to provide us, that is not the harder hit. While there will be limited opportunity to move resources around between Marco and Laura, it’s not no opportunity.”
While two storms in such rapid succession might be remarkably rare, he said, the Red Cross, unfortunately or not, has become well practiced at juggling multiple disasters, as it is now with the storms on the Gulf Coast and the wildfires in California.
“This rapid fire pace we’re at right now is something, unfortunately, we’ve had to do and improve at in the last five years,” he said, noting that there have been at least 10 disasters with more than $1 billion in uninsured loss in the past several years. “We’ve had to learn how to do this,” he said.
He said that the turbulence caused by the coronavirus and its repercussions on the economy have not impaired the Red Cross’s recruitment of new volunteers. Some 5,000 people have gone through volunteer training programs in recent months.
“I don’t think people are backing away from volunteerism when their neighbors are in need,” Mr. Kieserman said.
Meteorologists often have more than one powerful storm system to watch in the Atlantic, but it’s extremely rare for the Gulf of Mexico to have a hurricane and a tropical storm at the same time. And there is no record of there ever having been two hurricanes there at once, according to the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The closest the Gulf has come to two hurricanes at once was on Sept. 4, 1933, when one storm was over South Florida and another was far to the west near Texas.
The last time there was both a hurricane and a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico was in 1959, Joel Cline, a tropical program coordinator for the National Weather Service, said on Saturday.
News that the two storms were on converging paths led many people to wonder on social media whether they might merge to form a single monster storm. Meteorologists say it won’t happen; the way the storms spin would make them repel one another, not draw them together.
But that doesn’t mean they cannot compound one another’s damaging effects. Benjamin Schott, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in New Orleans, said on Sunday that there was the potential for rain bands extending out from the storms to overlap in some places, dropping one to two feet of rain.
Energy companies evacuate workers from offshore platforms as storms approach.
Oil and gas companies have begun evacuating workers from offshore production platforms as Marco and Laura make their way toward the Gulf of Mexico.
By midday Sunday, companies had evacuated 114 platforms, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is part of the Interior Department. Those platforms make up nearly 18 percent of the 643 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Roughly 58 percent of Gulf oil production and 45 percent of natural gas output has now been “shut-in,” a standard procedure in which safety valves below the surface of the ocean floor are closed to prevent the release of oil or gas.
“We are nearing completion of the evacuation of all nonessential personnel,” Royal Dutch Shell said in a statement on Sunday. “We have safely shut in production at all but one of our assets in the Gulf of Mexico. All well operations have now been safely secured.”
Shell also said that it would screen all of its workers for the coronavirus before they returned to work after the storms had passed.
It is common for energy companies to evacuate offshore workers in anticipation of hurricanes or tropical storms. While Marco is closer, forecasters are more worried about Laura, which is expected to become a hurricane before hitting the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of the week.
Rick Rojas, Christina Morales and Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.