Hurricane Ida is still kicking strong as it moves into the southern Gulf of Mexico.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for the northern Gulf Coast from Grand Isle, Louisiana to Mexico Beach, Florida. This includes the Mississippi and Alabama coast and the following cities: New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, Mobile, Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Pensacola, Gulf Breeze, Navarre, Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Seaside, Panama City, and Port St. Joe.
As of 3 pm, Hurricane Hunters near the center of Hurricane Ida reported sustained winds of 100 mph, which makes Ida a category 2 hurricane. Buoy observations in the Gulf indicate 12-14 foot high waves in the middle Gulf and 7-9 foot high waves in the northern Gulf. Winds along the coast are already increasing. Gusts to 30 mph have been reported at Gulf Shores, Alabama this afternoon.
Latest radar observations from Cancun, Mexico indicate a very small, compact core. Some ups and downs in intensity are apparent as the storm interacts with the Yucatan Penninusla, but as Ida moves away from Mexico and into the Gulf of Mexico some intensification is very much possible.
Many of the forecast guidance continues Ida's current northwestward motion through Monday morning before a gradual and slow turn more toward the north happens late Monday. Early Tuesday morning a more sharp turn toward the northeast is possible. The idea the models are picking up on is a cold front dropping down from the north. If the cold front behaves as expected, this forecast seems reasonable. The problem comes if this cold front slows down significantly. A few models do pick up on this and bring Ida inland along the Mississippi Coast. The official track from the National Hurricane Center is in agreement with a landfall Tuesday morning between Mobile and Pensacola.
There are a couple of things working in our favor. The first thing is the water temperatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico are in the mid-70's, which is below the threshold temperature for intensification. That would help to start a weakening trend before landfall. Also, cold fronts tend to involve strong upper level winds which would help to create wind shear. That, too, will help to weaken Ida as the storm approaches the coast.
My thinking right now is that landfall will probably happen close to sunrise Tuesday morning as a category 1 hurricane with winds of 75-90 mph. Landfall seems most likely between Mobile Bay and Panama City.
For East Mississippi and West Alabama, we have a couple of options.
First, dry air could wrap into the back side of Ida. In this case, we would see spotty showers at best along with some stiff winds. The second option involves the cold front helping lift the humid air mass brought in by Ida. That would mean a lot of wind and a lot of rain for us, and right now this seems like the most likely event for us.
With so much rain over the past two months, the ground is already saturated. Trees could fall with minimal tropical storm force winds here and across the deep south.
Of course, if there is any deviation from the forecast track, a whole new set of ideas will be in the works.
Even if we do not see major impacts from Hurricane Ida, the possibility of evacuees in our area is high as we have learned from storms.
For the latest on Hurricane Ida, stay with the Newscenter 11 Weather Team, WTOK.com, and our Hurricane Web Channel (www.wtok.com/hurricane).