Dash Talk

Tropical Storm Laura forecast: Arkansas, Kentucky, Mid-Atlantic next in storm’s path

Laura was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm midday Thursday. At 5 p.m., it was centered about 130 miles south-southwest of Little Rock. Briskly headed north-northeast at 15 mph, Laura’s peak winds were 50 mph, nearly 100 mph less than they were 24 hours before.

Forecast for Arkansas and nearby states

Late Thursday afternoon, torrential rain was falling around Little Rock and areas just to its east and south, where flash flood warnings were in effect.

The rain should exit Arkansas, from south to north, Thursday night into the first half of Friday.

Up to 3 to 7 inches of rain could fall, with locally higher amounts. “This rainfall will continue to cause widespread flash and urban flooding, small streams and creeks to overflow their banks, and minor to moderate freshwater river flooding,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.

Thunderstorms embedded within Laura’s rain bands and flaring up ahead of its core were likely to rotate in some instances. Tornado watches were in effect from central and southeast Arkansas, including Little Rock, southward through western Mississippi and southeast Louisiana.

The worst of Laura’s winds will wane once the center of the storm reaches southern Arkansas, but tropical-storm-force gusts over 39 mph could still occur as far north as Little Rock.

Forecast for the Tennessee Valley and the Mid-Atlantic

After tracking through Arkansas, Laura will mark a hard right turn to the east and likely diminish to a depression. The forecast path tracks Laura across Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia between Friday night through Saturday night.

As the system sweeps across the Mid-Atlantic, it will retain a core of heavy rain and gusty winds, up to 30 to 40 mph.

“Through Saturday, Laura is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 5 inches across the mid-Mississippi Valley and portions of the Tennessee and Lower Ohio Valley, the central Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic States,” the National Hurricane Center predicted.

This rainfall could cause some isolated pockets of flooding.

Laura is also likely to generate some strong thunderstorms in both the Tennessee Valley and Mid-Atlantic, including some tornadoes, especially south and east of its track.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has declared a slight risk of severe thunderstorms just south and east of the storm track Friday and Saturday. Damaging winds and a few tornadoes are the main hazards of concern.

Storm in perspective

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Laura’s intensity leaped from a Category 1 to a high-end Category 4, strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico at the fastest rate on record (tied with one other storm). It made landfall with 150 mph sustained winds in Cameron, La., at 2 a.m. Thursday as the strongest hurricane on record to hit southwestern Louisiana.

Lake Charles, La., was one of the hardest-hit areas and clocked a wind gust of 132 mph as the storm’s eyewall, the zone of extreme winds surrounding the center, barged through. Damage was extensive in the city.

Preliminary storm-surge data indicate that seas rose at least nine feet above normally dry land. Although that number is lower than the projected 15 to 20 feet, observing stations are few along the Louisiana coast, so the true height of the maximum surge is not yet known.

Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, tweeted that Laura is the strongest storm, by wind speed, to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856. These peak winds of 150 mph also rank among the top 10 among all hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States.

The other storms to make landfall in the continental United States so far in 2020 are:

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