Breaking down Ida: Why was it so strong and devastating to Louisiana?


LOUISIANA – (ABC4) Many saw the incredible scenes of Hurricane Ida making landfall in southeast Louisiana on Sunday just a little before noon. Plenty were hearing that this would be one of the worst hurricanes to hit the Louisiana coast as sustained winds were measured at 150 mph. For those old enough, they saw parallels to Hurricane Katrina and how it devastated the area a little over 16 years ago; but Ida while similar to Katrina, was a completely different beast in its own right.

Many were hearing that Ida could be one of the most damaging storms due to rapid intensification. But what does that mean? Rapid intensification is a term that describes the strengthening of a tropical cyclone (known as hurricanes in the western hemisphere) of maximum sustained winds of at least 30 knots (roughly 34 miles per hour) in a 24 hour period. Ida went well beyond that going from a category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 85 mph to a high-end category 4 with sustained winds of 150 mph.

But why did Ida undergo rapid intensification? Well, a number of factors were underway that helped Ida exploded but the main reason was the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico was sitting around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is prime fuel for hurricanes to continue strengthening. Other factors were in play but the abundance of warm water was the most key ingredient.

Sea surface temperatures a short time before Ida made landfall.

After it made landfall in southeastern Louisiana, Ida continued to create immense issues such as flooding and incredibly strong winds with very little weakening. But why did it take so long to weaken? It made landfall, should that not start to weaken the storm? While yes Ida did make landfall, the land it was over was not very filled with land. In southern Louisiana along with a lot of the Gulf Coast, there are bayous that hold on to plenty of water.

These bayous are shallow, marsh-like areas of slow-moving water. Given the shallow nature of the water, it also is very warm if not warmer at time than the Gulf of Mexico. This allowed Ida to have an additional source of latent heat that Ida needed to continue at a category 4 hurricane over land.

As Ida now continues into the Mississippi Delta region, away from a water source, it will continue to weaken into a post-tropical depression. This post-tropical depression will move through the Tennessee Valley and Mid-Atlantic causing issues such as flooding and tornado outbreaks for those in its path.

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