After a deadly run through Haiti during which 23 people were killed by floods and landslides, tropical storm Gustav is expected today to graduate to hurricane status as it bears down on Jamaica with winds whipping at 70 miles per hour, just shy of the 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour required for a Category One hurricane, Reuters reports.
The storm is expected to pick up more strength from the warm waters south of Cuba en route to Jamaica, prompting the government there to issue a hurricane warning. This doesn't bode well for the U.S. Gulf Coast, as forecasters at the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Gustav would turn "more to the west and the northwest" around the time it enters the Gulf of Mexico, and would become a "powerful hurricane" as it moves into the southern Gulf on Sunday, according to CBC News Canada.
Although long-term storm predictions are often unreliable, Gustav may become a Category Two hurricane as it moves between Cuba and Jamaica and hit the oil and gas producing areas off the coast of Louisiana or Texas as a Category Three hurricane (115 mph (185 kmph) winds) in time for Labor Day. Travelers across the U.S. are already feeling the effects of Gustav: crude oil prices have jumped $5 per barrel as people gas up their cars for the long weekend.
(Image of Hurricane Katrina south of Louisiana landfall on August 28, 2005, courtesy of Lieutenant Mike Silah, NOAA Corps, NOAA AOC)
With memories of Hurricane Katrina still vivid, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued a state of emergency and asked the federal government to issue a "pre-landfall federal declaration," both of which set in motion the deliverance of aid and staffing of emergency shelters, should they be needed, The Town Talk (which serves central Louisiana) reports on its Web site. About 3,000 National Guard soldiers have already been put on alert.
The National Weather Service predicted as many as 16 "named" storms, those whose winds reach more than 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour. If one is born in the Atlantic Ocean or east of the international date line in the Pacific, it is called a hurricane; in the northwest Pacific, a typhoon; in the southwest Pacific and southeastern Indian oceans, such a storm is dubbed a severe tropical cyclone; in the north Indian, a severe cyclonic storm; and in the southwest Indian, a tropical cyclone. By any name, one of these storms can carry as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs—making them nature's most destructive meteorologic phenomenon.