Credit: NOAA

The storm has already strengthened to a category 3.

As it makes landfall from the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Laura, formerly Tropical Storm Laura, is shaping up to be the first truly major hurricane of the storm season. The storm has already strengthened to a category 3, and is predicted to escalate to a category 4 by the time it makes landfall either tonight or Thursday morning. Storm surge warnings are currently in effect, with meteorologists predicting surges of up to 20 feet.

Over 500,000 people have already evacuated from cities near the storm’s projected point of landfall, including Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur. All residents of northern Texas and southwest Louisiana have been advised to immediately finish their preparations if they have not already done so and evacuate as soon as possible.

In addition to its powerful wind and rain, Laura seems to also be growing in diameter. According to meteorological reports, hurricane-force winds are extending out approximately 70 miles from the storm’s eye, and tropical-storm-force winds are extending out approximately 175 miles.

“This is a tough storm – big, powerful and every forecast seems to increase the intensity,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

“We are expecting widespread power outages, trees down. Homes and businesses will be damaged,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Donald Jones, who then added that “this is going to be a very serious situation.”

Credit: David J. Phillip/AP

Some residents have chosen to remain in the area due to a fear of exposing themselves and their families to the COVID-19 pandemic while evacuating.

“It’s stressful,” Port Arthur resident Simike Babineaux told USA Today. “You want to go but you don’t want to go because you might get [the virus]. So, we’re probably going to ride it out.”

Port Arthur’s Mayor, Thurman Bartie stressed the importance of following evacuation orders, and issued a warning to those that are choosing to stay behind. “If you decide to stay, you’re staying on your own,” he said.

The hurricane is expected to gradually weaken after it makes landfall, with projections bringing it down to a tropical storm by the time it reaches Arkansas on Thursday, after which it will gradually work its way northeast over the weekend.