We'll be updating this post periodically to keep you informed with all the latest information about this pair of storms ambling toward the Gulf Coast as the threat continues to unfold.
UPDATED 4:30 P.M. AUG 26
Mayor Sylvester Turner offered an update on the city’s status in regard to Hurricane Laura late Wednesday afternoon. “Look how quickly things can change in 24 hours,” Turner said. “In 24 hours this storm has moved a little to the right and now it appears Houston will not get a direct hit.”
Turner noted the city is still asking people to be on their guard and to stay off the road this evening as the storm will be bringing plenty of wind and some rain to the Houston region.
“One thing I do want to underscore is the rapid intensification of these storms. These storms in a matter of hours can go from a Category 1 to a Category 4,” Turner said. “We had really ramped up and were preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, and I tell you until this storm has passed we will continue to be prepared for whatever comes Houston’s way.”
He also shared that the city has been in close communication with CenterPoint Energy to respond to the power outages that they are expecting Laura to still bring to the Houston area, even though the storm itself is now almost certainly going to miss the Bayou City. Meanwhile, local officials have been working all week to help the city's homeless population find shelter before the storm rolls in, particularly in the sections of the city on the east side which are expected to see more of an impact from Laura as the hurricane moves through tonight and early tomorrow morning.
Officials also reminded Houstonians to be aware of all the usual rules of thumb for dealing with one of these storms, so people should not drive into standing water, or drive around any roadway barriers, HPD Chief Art Acevedo said. They also should stay off the roads as much as possible, and should remember to treat any intersection where the traffic lights are out as a four-way stop, HFD Chief Sam Pena said. The city is expecting a number of downed trees and other wind damage from this storm, and workers are on standby at various water treatment plants in the area, City Public Works Director Carol Ellinger Haddock said.
Officials also cautioned people not to forget about the concerns over Covid-19 while this storm plays out. “The pandemic is not taking a break. The virus is still in our communities,” Houston Health Department Health Authority Dr. David Persse said, reminding everyone to keep their masks on hand and to be vigilant about taking precautions against contracting the virus if anyone does have to go out into the community. He also said that hospitals will not be functioning as shelters, so people should not head to hospitals expecting shelter because they will not be allowed in.
Turner cautioned that if this storm turns out to not be as severe as everyone feared, that will be no reason to scoff at the preparations and precautions that officials took. "If it moves 40 miles, just 40 miles, it would be catastrophic," he said. "For now, let's go forward and be thankful, but also prayerful for those in the direct line of this storm."
Turner and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee also took the moment to speak in support of the coastal spine (aka the "Ike Dike" project supported by Texas A&M University-Galveston, and other local entities). "We got lucky, but we won't always be," Turner said. "We need a coastal spine."
Updated 3:34 p.m. Aug 26
Laura is now a Category 4 hurricane with maximum winds of 140 mph. There is some potential for the storm to become a Category 5 hurricane, according to Space City Weather, but Houston is still projected to miss the main punch of the weather. The Houston area should expect to see peak impact between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. tonight, but we are currently only projected to get 1–2 inches of water. Galveston and Bolivar should expect the storm's peak between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. tonight, according to Space City's report. Galveston Island could see 1–4 feet of storm surge, while Bolivar Peninsula could see up to 5 feet of storm surge.
Just because Houston isn't expected to get hit too badly does not mean Houstonians should let their guard down. This is a nasty storm that is expected to do a lot of damage. In its 1 p.m. report, the National Hurricane Center warned of "catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds, and flash flooding expected along the northwest Gulf Coast tonight."
Storm surge warnings are still in effect Freeport east to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and a hurricane warning is in effect starting at the San Luis Pass going east to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. Additionally, a tropical storm warning is in effect from Sargent to San Luis Pass.
This morning Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed a disaster declaration to prep emergency management resources for the storm. Harris County is expected to start seeing Laura-related weather at 6 p.m. today. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has advised folks to be off the roads by 8 p.m. The City of Galveston is under a mandatory curfew 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. tonight and Thursday. Violators face a potential $1,000 fine.
Updated 9:40 a.m. Aug 26
As of this morning, Laura is a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds, according to Space City Weather. In good news for the Houston and Galveston area, according to the National Hurricane Center, the storm's cone noting the area of greatest potential impact is solidly at the Texas-Louisiana border. That means, if the projection holds up, Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, will be among the hardest hit locations, while our metropolitan area may get tropical storm winds and some rain.
Space City Weather reminds us that Laura is looking a lot like Hurricane Rita, a Category 3 storm in September 2005 whose high winds caused major destruction between Port Arthur and Johnson Bayou, Louisiana. Rita had minor direct, physical impact in Houston, though Galveston was hit hard with several buildings damaged and destroyed, and the deaths of more than 100 people were attributed to the evacuation of the Houston and Galveston area.
While the current projection of Laura is reason to let out a sigh of relief here in Houston, the storm may still bring devastating winds and rain to the Galveston coastline and neighboring areas. Also, the hurricane could wobble west, which means much greater impact in the area (including destruction of buildings and widespread power outages). To that end, a storm surge warning is still in effect from Freeport east to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and a hurricane warning is in effect starting at the San Luis Pass going east to Intracoastal City, Louisiana. All this to say: Stay cautious and stick to your established hurricane plans for tonight and tomorrow.
Updated 1:24 p.m. Aug 25
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has declared a voluntary evacuation for residents who live in Zones A and B, including Clear Lake, Friendswood, Baybrook, League City, Texas City, Baytown, and La Porte. "Folks along the coast are the ones who need to leave."
If you're not evacuating, stay off the roads so those who need to leave can, Hidalgo said. All Harris County Toll fees have been waived to help expedite evacuations. By 8 p.m. Wednesday, people should be off the roads except for essential personnel, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. That's when the winds will start picking up, and it's going to be dangerous for even first responders to be out.
The hurricane, which has been upgraded to a Category 3 and is expected to hit by midnight Wednesday, is likely to bring high winds and possible storm surges. Both Turner and Hidalgo warned people to put away any lawn furniture they might have and anything else that could become a projectile should the wind pick up by 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Hidalgo warned all Harris County residents to shelter from possible high winds, and to be prepared for prolonged power outages. Turner echoed her warnings, reminding Houstonians of 2008's Hurricane Ike, when the city lost power for two weeks. "I want you to prepare as if there is a lot of people without power," he said. Hidalgo advised people to have enough food for a week.
At 2 p.m. tomorrow, all city employees will be sent home, except for essential workers. "This is a dangerous storm," Turner said. The path of Hurricane Laura has caused some confusion as its trajectory has changed, but no one really knows exactly where it will show up. "Do not assume that it's not going to hit us."
By now Houstonians should be well on their way in prepping their hurricane kits, Turner said. He also encouraged people to check on their neighbors, especially seniors and those with disabilities.
"Let's hope for the best," Hidalgo said, "but we must be prepared."
"Unlike Harvey this is going to be a very high wind storm," Gov. Greg Abbott warned at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, including high winds that will reach well into East Texas. The storm is also expected to be very fast moving, he noted, with current forecasts predicting that it will have moved through Texas by the end of Thursday.
There are also concerns about the predicted storm surge, and Abbott urged those on the coast within the hurricane cone to leave the area as soon as possible. (Houstonians are being asked to stay off the roads right now as people from Galveston and Bolivar are evacuating those areas.)
"Please heed local warnings so you can take in advance the action that is needed," Abbott urged, noting that evacuation centers have already begun opening up within the state, including an evacuation center in San Antonio that will open its doors at 3 p.m., two in Austin and one in Dallas. He also noted that hotels and motels are good evacuation options due to Covid-19. "Just because a hurricane is coming does not mean Covid-19 has left the state. Covid-19 is still here," Abbott said. He also stated that the state is providing PPE gear for evacuees and those working this disaster, including providing cleaning supplies to sanitize the evacuation buses and PPE for those who will be riding the buses.
Abbott already issued a disaster declaration for 23 counties, and this afternoon announced he announced he was issuing another disaster declaration to allow an additional 36 counties to access emergency funding to deal with Hurricane Laura.
The National Hurricane Center's most recent update on now-Hurricane Laura very slightly shifted the track of the storm to the west. Houston and Galveston remain within range, so residents should be preparing for the worst-case scenario, which is a major hurricane directly hitting the area by Wednesday evening.
What we don't know is where exactly Laura will make landfall. Eric Berger at Space City Weather detailed potential effects of Laura dependent on where it hits, which can be anywhere from Galveston to the Texas-Louisiana border. Moreover, experts are considering Laura to be more of a wind event than a heavy rainfall event, so don't expect another Harvey, they say.
As for what you should do? Those living along the Gulf should evacuate, while people further inland should take into account the impact of storm surge and weigh their options heavily. Beyond that, the choice is yours, but listen to local officials, and prepare your kit now.
UPDATED 8:20 a.m. AUG 25
Okay, Marco has spun off into the nether, but Laura is still out there, making her way into the Gulf and at this point, while it's unclear where exactly this storm will come ashore, it is looking increasingly likely that Houston will be within range. Right now, the focus is on the coast, since those areas are the most vulnerable based on the current predicted track of the storm, which also graduated up to hurricane strength this morning. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry issued a disaster declaration for the area just hours after the city of Galveston issued a voluntary evacuation order ahead of Laura. Since then, the storm's path has only become more likely to head this way.
Much of the coastal area is under a hurricane watch and storm surge watch issued by the U.S. National Weather Service, and this morning officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for Galveston while Seabrook residents have also been told to prepare to leave due to the predicted storm surge. (Galveston County residents should head out as soon as possible, and any who don't have the means to drive out on their own need to be at the buses that will transport them out of the reach of possible storm surge by noon today.)
Updated 2 p.m. Aug 24
In case you haven't taken a break from hitting refresh nonstop on Space City Weather and the National Hurricane Center, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo held a press conference this afternoon to address concerns over the two storms brewing off the Gulf Coast—Marco (which has weakened and is not expected to become a hurricane) and Laura (definitely expected to ‘cane it up, but currently unknown where it will make landfall either in Texas or Louisiana)— and how we can all prepare.
While the dregs of Marco are likely to bring us only some thunderstorms on Wednesday, all eyes are now on Laura and will be until tomorrow when we for sure know its path (the latest forecast predicts Laura making landfall between Port Arthur and Lake Charles). “The good news and the bad news is that Laura is still somewhat unpredictable,” said Hidalgo. “What we need to do is prepare for the worst.”
The city and county are preparing for a wind event and the potential for storm surge in some areas. “This is not Harvey,” Turner advised during his remarks. At this time, there's no indication Laura will be a major flooding event for Houston.
Here are the latest (1 PM CDT) updates on both Tropical Storms Marco and Laura. While Marco is the immediate threat to SE TX, Laura remains one to watch for in the coming days. Stay tuned! #HurricaneSeason2020 #glswx #houwx #txwx pic.twitter.com/UihKEbr8TR— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) August 24, 2020
With all that in mind both Hidalgo and Turner emphasized getting ready for a hurricane right now (especially since we know these storms can swing to the east or west at the drop of a hat). "Be prepared for it rather than hoping for the best,” said Hidalgo.
Houstonians should prepare now:
- Monitor weather reports.
- Expect a somewhat windy event. "Don’t board up windows, but have some supplies available just in case,” said Turner. Again, we’ll have a better sense tomorrow of Laura’s path.
- Have food that won’t spoil.
- Add a mask, sanitizer, and wipes to your hurricane kit. “Put some patience in there, and add a little bit of faith,” urges Turner.
- Have a full tank of gas, supplies (including medication and PPE), and things you need for prolonged power outages.
- Don’t forget about pets.
- Pick up things that heavy wind could send flying—or tie these things down (patio furniture, potted plants, etc.).
- Reach out to seniors, especially those who live alone, who might need help.
- Stay off the roads Tuesday night through Wednesday (to alleviate traffic for those who might need to evacuate).
If you live on the coast:
- Certain areas might engage in voluntary evacuation (such as Port Arthur, Galveston, or Chambers County), which could lead to more traffic tomorrow into Tuesday night.
- Listen to elected officials for info on evacuation.
- We won’t have a clear forecast until tomorrow morning, so prepare to evacuate now (Be ready to go at moment’s notice).
Also keep in mind:
- The Red Cross is prepared to open emergency shelters (and has worked with CDC and FEMA to take Covid-19 precautions).
- The county has partners ready to handle debris, power outages, and more potential issues.
- The city will be working to get our homeless populations into shelters, and has activated its Office of Emergency Management and all departments to prepare for a major storm.
- The City and County will both be reaching out to seniors and those with disabilities (or you can call 211 for help).
- Public Works will not be putting out barricades—it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious and careful while driving. It just means our officials are expecting more of a wind than flooding event.
- You can head to Readyharris.org for more information and alerts.
Make time today to get your shopping done, take a deep breath, and listen to the Mayor— “Until we know more tomorrow, just be careful, monitor weather reports, and be prepared."
Posted 9 a.m. Aug 24
Well, Houston, we should brace ourselves for quite a bit of precipitation. Two tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, Marco and Laura, are expected to make landfall in the next couple of days, although it remains to be seen where exactly they'll hit and how strong they'll be.
Marco is expected to start rolling in later today along the Gulf Coast, but it's weakening, with 50 mph winds this morning, according to Space City Weather. The storm will make its way across the Louisiana coast today, entering Texas sometime tomorrow, weakening but bringing rain.
The greater threat to Houston is Laura, which is currently over Cuba, according to the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center. Laura's most recent trajectory has the storm heading toward Texas's upper coast and Louisiana. The storm, which could strengthen to anything from a Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane before it hits, should make its way to us by Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning, according to the most recent projections. (However, as anyone who was here for Ike, or Rita, or Harvey or any of the storms that have hit in the past will remember, projections are one thing, and what is actually going to happen with a storm doesn't have to reflect any of those projections in the least, so nothing is certain right now except the fact that Laura exists, and will likely come ashore somewhere along the Gulf Coast.)
Regardless, Houstonians should be prepared. "It doesn’t take a lot of water to do damage,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said at a press conference on Friday. “Only 18 inches of water.” Have generators, flashlights, and batteries at the ready. But he also warned people to not use grills or generators inside their homes—that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
People can sign up for weather alerts at alerthouston.org, said George Buenik, director of the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Remember, texts will often go through when phone calls will not, Peña suggested.
"Be weather alert and be prepared," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Don’t get caught off-guard. Have your hurricane plan ready, and because we are still in a pandemic, the mayor advised Houstonians to include several masks, soap, and sanitizer in their hurricane preparedness kits.
The Houston Police Department is already prepping for water rescues, but officials are also reminding people that driving into standing water under any circumstances during one of these storms is an incredibly risky thing to do, because the water often looks more shallow than it is. Officials urged people not to take any chance, in fact. "Turn around, don't drown,' is not a slogan,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo added. “It's a way to stay alive.”