Aug. 27 (UPI) — Ida strengthened into a hurricane Friday afternoon just south of western Cuba as it made its way toward the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said.
In its 2 p.m. EDT update, the National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm was located 5 miles east of the Isle of Youth and 145 miles east of the western tip of Cuba. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was moving northwest at 15 mph.
A tropical storm becomes a Category 1 hurricane when it reaches sustained winds of 74 mph.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa, and the Isle of Youth and a tropical storm warning was in place for Cameron, La., east to the Mississippi/Alabama border, and Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan Louisiana. Hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge watches were also in place in the region.
Ida is expected to strengthen further as it heads northwest into the Gulf of Mexico and becomes a major hurricane — Category 3 or higher — by Sunday morning. A storm reaches Category 3 when it has sustained winds of between 111 and 129 mph.
Ida is forecast to make landfall along the Louisiana or Mississippi coasts late Sunday or early Monday before turning toward the northeast.
AccuWeather forecasters are warning residents and businesses from the Texas coast to Louisiana and the panhandles of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, as well as fishing and petroleum operations, to closely monitor the progress of the intensifying storm and heed all warnings and evacuation notices from officials as Ida will strengthen rapidly along its path toward the U.S. Gulf Coast.
“The atmospheric environment is expected to rapidly become more conducive for this system to organize and strengthen,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Rob Miller said.
Sea-surface temperatures in the northwestern Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico could aid a strengthening storm, as they are well into the 80s F in many areas.
“Not only is there warm surface water along the projected path of Ida, but there is deep warm water in that zone,” AccuWeather chief on-air meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. That can help to counteract any cooling of surface waters that can occur due to the storm’s wave action.
Ida is the fourth storm in the Atlantic basin this year to reach hurricane strength, after Elsa, Grace and Henri. Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny and Fred maxed out at tropical storm strength. However, Ida would be only the second to become a major hurricane, after Grace.