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During a Tuesday afternoon update on Hurricane Laura, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a voluntary evacuation order for residents who live in zones A and B of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s hurricane evacuation map, which encompasses the southeastern-most part of Houston in addition to parts of Deer Park, League City, Clear Lake, La Porte, Nassau Bay, El Lago and Friendswood.
“We are asking you to evacuate those areas immediately. Do not wait, hoping the forecast will improve,” Hidalgo said. Area residents can look up which zip codes are in the affected area on Harris County’s interactive online map.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who joined Hidalgo during Tuesday’s press conference, said that Laura’s heavy winds are reminiscent of those of Hurricane Ike back in 2008 which left people across the Houston area without power for days on end, so he recommended that locals who haven’t been asked to evacuate make sure they have enough nonperishable food items to last that long if need be.
“We remember when Hurricane Ike came through, people lost power throughout the entire city, and people were without power for two weeks,” Turner said. “So I want you to prepare.” Turner also said that public works employees have been working to make sure local drainage ditches are clear of debris, and explained that the city is working with the Red Cross to help set up a hurricane shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center and to coordinate housing those in need of refuge at shelters across the Houston area in a socially distanced fashion in light of COVID-19.
Hidalgo and Turner both asked area residents who live more inland than residents of evacuation zones A and B to prepare to shelter in place and to limit their use of local roads in order to make room for evacuees passing through from the Texas coast. Turner asked that all Houston residents stay off the roads completely by 8 p.m. Wednesday, at which point the Houston area is expected to start feeling the first heavy winds as Laura approaches.
The National Weather Service’s latest forecast has Hurricane Laura making landfall further west and closer to the Houston area than Monday’s forecasts indicated.
Graphic provided by the National Weather Service
The most recently available forecasts from the National Weather Service show that Laura has officially strengthened into a full-on hurricane as of this morning, and is now expected to make landfall late Wednesday night as at least a category 3 storm. Thanks to warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s still a chance Laura could intensify into a category 4 hurricane before it arrives between southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura’s trajectory shifted slightly westward overnight toward the upper Texas coast, which means there’s a greater chance that it may hit Galveston Island dead-on and could pose a significant threat to the greater Houston area, although the most likely trajectory for the storm still appears to have it land just east of Galveston as of early Tuesday afternoon.
Less than 48 hours out from its expected landfall, Hurricane Laura has already started to have an impact on southeast Texas. The cities of Galveston and Port Arthur have already issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents, as have Jefferson County and Orange County. The cities of Seabrook and Nassau Bay and Chambers County were all under voluntary evacuation orders by Tuesday morning as well, and La Porte issued its own voluntary evacuation order Tuesday afternoon. In order to help evacuees from other cities pass through the greater Houston area more quickly, both Harris County and Fort Bend County have waived all toll fees in their jurisdictions as of Tuesday.
Despite posing a significant threat to the Houston area, Laura is still shaping up to be a much different storm than Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Rockport three years ago today before hovering over Houston for multiple days and devastating the city with more than 50 inches of rain. Hurricane Laura is predicted to blow through much more quickly than Harvey did, and the heavy winds it’s bringing along are expected to be a much greater threat than the rainfall that will come, according to Space City Weather.
In a Tuesday morning post, Space City Weather’s Eric Berger said that area residents “need to be prepared for the possibility of additional westward shifts” in Hurricane Laura’s track by this afternoon.
“This is time for preparedness and action, not panic,” Berger wrote. “This is a very serious situation that all residents should be following closely.”
Houston itself is still only under a tropical storm watch, and the NWS extended a previously issued hurricane watch to parts of east Harris County and all of Galveston early Tuesday morning, which also covers the area between San Luis Pass, Texas and Morgan City, Louisiana.
The Houston Astros have postponed their Wednesday game against the Anaheim Angels due to the hurricane forecast, but today’s doubleheader between the two teams at Minute Maid Park will continue as planned. Space Center Houston also announced on Tuesday that they would be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to Laura’s imminent arrival.