On the eve of Hurricane Harvey's third anniversary, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner encouraged Houston area residents to start preparing for Tropical Storm Laura, which is predicted to make landfall somewhere between southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana late Wednesday night as a Category 2 hurricane.
Laura is the second of two storms currently hovering around the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Marco, which was downgraded from a hurricane on Sunday night, now appears not to pose a significant threat to Houston according to the National Weather Service.
In a Monday afternoon press conference, Turner and Hidalgo urged area residents to keep a close eye on local weather reports over the next few days and to start preparing now in case our region ends up bearing the brunt of Laura if it moves further westward.
“I’ve always said our strategy should never be to hope for the best. We don’t have the luxury of time, so the time to prepare is right now. We can’t wait for another forecast,” Hidalgo said.
The City of Houston tweeted on Monday morning a recommended list of supplies to gather for hurricane kits in anticipation of Laura’s arrival. The majority of the items — nonperishable food, medicine, batteries, chargers and pet food — are typical for any storm season, but the inclusion of hand sanitizer, face masks and cleaning wipes was a reminder that this year’s hurricane season is going on during an unprecedented global pandemic, and that COVID-19 won’t be going anywhere even if a hurricane hits the Houston area.
Turner said that Laura will most likely be “somewhat of a wind event” that will move along fairly quickly once it makes landfall, as opposed to a storm that stalls over the Houston area for multiple days pouring out massive amounts of rain like Hurricane Harvey.
He also explained that city employees have already been directed to start helping unsheltered homeless Houstonians relocate to homeless shelters across the city in advance of Laura's arrival. In a Friday press conference, Turner said that anyone who enters a shelter due to a hurricane will be required to wear a face mask. On Monday, Hidalgo stressed that the county has been working on plans for sheltering those in need if a hurricane were to hit Harris County that would comply with social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
Right now, the upcoming storms and potential evacuation orders aren’t predicted to have a significant impact on gas prices. “All eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico as two tropical systems head toward a sensitive area for the oil industry, and while these storms bear monitoring, they thankfully are unlikely to have a major impact on gas prices that for the eighth straight week have been mostly quiet,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for the nationwide gas price tracker GasBuddy in a Monday morning statement.
“We don’t expect that the vast majority or anywhere close to a large portion of the county would have to evacuate,” Hidalgo said. Turner agreed, while stressing that Houstonians should expect potential increases in local traffic between Tuesday and Wednesday as some Texas cities closer to the coast may end up ordering their residents to evacuate westward through the Houston area.
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a preemptive state of disaster declaration for 23 Texas counties along the coast that could be affected by Laura and Marco. The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted Abbott’s request for a federal disaster declaration on Monday morning. A few hours later, Abbott announced that more than 70 members of the Texas National Guard have been activated and disbursed throughout the state to aid with local response to Laura and Marco.
“As Tropical Storms Marco and Laura head towards the coast, the State of Texas is working with local and federal partners to ensure our communities have the resources they need to respond to these storms” Abbott said Monday.
Local meteorologist Eric Berger of Space City Weather wrote just before 2 p.m. on Monday that while there is still “a fair amount of uncertainty” about exactly how close to Houston Laura will make landfall, the latest forecasts predict it will hit closer to the border of Louisiana and Texas, and that we should have a much better idea about Laura’s path “by this time tomorrow.”
As of Monday afternoon, Berger wrote that Space City Weather now forecasts a 30 percent chance for “near or direct impact on Houston” by Laura as “a powerful hurricane,” and a 70 percent chance that Laura ends up making landfall further away from Houston “near or east of [the] Texas-Louisiana border.”