MIAMI – Tropical Storm Ida formed in the Caribbean on Thursday and forecasters said its track was aimed at the U.S. Gulf Coast, prompting Louisiana's governor to declare a state of emergency and forecasters to announce a hurricane watch for New Orleans.
“Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone for Tropical Storm Ida, which is strengthening and could come ashore in Louisiana as a major hurricane as Gulf conditions are conducive for rapid intensification,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
“By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm.," the governor added.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ida was expected to cross the tobacco-rich western stretch of Cuba as a tropical storm starting Friday afternoon and then strengthen, reaching the Gulf Coast by Sunday.
“There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, especially along the coast of Louisiana,” the Hurricane Center said.
"Ida certainly has the potential to be very bad," said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
A hurricane watch was in effect for Cameron, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border — including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans
Late Thursday night, Ida had sustained maximum winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and was traveling northwest at about 12 mph (19 kph). It was centered about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Grand Cayman and 365 miles (585 kilometers) southeast of the western tip of Cuba.
Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the center.
The storm was forecast to deliver anywhere from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain over parts of Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman islands, with the potential for more in some isolated areas.
Forecasters warned of possible flash floods and mudslides and tidal storm surge of as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal, along with “large and destructive waves.”
The Cayman Islands government said nonessential government offices closed at '2:30 p.m. Thursday and four shelters were activated.