Update (1 pm ET): With Nate expected to strengthen into a category 2 storm by the time it makes landfall in southeastern Louisiana late Saturday, the NHC has expanded its storm warnings to include the part of the Florida panhandle east of the Okaloosa/Walton County Line to Indian Pass Florida, which is now under a tropical storm warning. Meanwhile, mandatory evacuations are set to begin in Port Fourchon, Louisiana at 12pm local time Saturday for remaining staff at the port, according to storm update by the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. This follows mandatory evacuation ordered by Lafourche Parish, La., President Jimmy Cantrelle for areas below floodgates in Golden Meadow, La. In addition, the US Coast Guard has suspended marine traffic activity as of 8 am local time for sector Mobile, which includes the ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi, Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., in preparation for Hurricane Nate, according to an agency bulletin.
Staff at offshore oil rigs in the Gulf were ordered to evacuate, leaving nearly three-quarters of US Gulf of Mexico oil production was offline ahead of the storm. American Midstream Partners LP’s Destin gas pipeline and Enbridge Inc.’s Nautilus and Manta Ray lines are evacuating staff from Gulf platforms.
Thanks to Harvey, and now Nate, natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has plunged to the lowest level in three years. Gulf gas output may drop as much as 1.4 billion cubic feet a day, while 1.1 million barrels a day of offshore oil production and 3 million barrels of refining capacity are at risk, according to Shunondo Basu, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
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After battering Honduras and Nicaragua with 80 mph winds and torrential rains that caused an estimated $250 million in damage, Hurricane Nate is rapidly advancing toward the US Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall late Saturday in southeastern Louisiana, not far from where Hurricane Katrina landed in 2005. Experts expect that, once it's course, the storm will have caused as much as $1 billion in damages across the US and Central America, far short of the tens of billions of dollars of destruction wrought by Irma and Harvey.
The storm, packing winds of 85 mph and moving at a speed of 22 mph, is expected to reach category 2 strength before it makes landfall – the third storm to hit the US mainland in six weeks. As a category 2, it’s expected to be weaker than Katrina was when it made landfall as a category 3 in 2005. As of 8 am ET, the storm was 245 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory. The quick-moving storm was expected to make landfall around Plaquemine Parish in Louisiana, southeast of New Orleans, just like Katrina did.
Fortunately for residents of New Orleans, Nate’s similarities to Katrina end there. Nate is expected to cause only a fraction of the damage that Katrina wrought (though it wouldn’t be the first time this season that forecasters underestimated a Hurricane’s potential for devastation). Katrina brought a 24- to 28-foot (7.3- to 8.5-meter) storm surge with it that killed 1,800 people and flooded New Orleans. Nate’s surge is forecast to reach four to seven feet.
Like Irma and Harvey before it, meteorologists are amazed by Nate’s speed as it sprinted north-northwest away from Honduras at 22 mph, according to the NHC.
“I am amazed at how fast it is moving,” said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. “It just lifted off Honduras and it is going to make landfall in New Orleans by tomorrow.”
Nate may dump as much as 6 inches of rain across U.S. Gulf Coast states, the eastern Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians through the weekend, the hurricane center said. Some areas may get 10 inches, according to CNN.
With the memory of Katrina’s devastation still fresh in the minds of many residents, Louisiana has begun mandatory evacuations in areas near the levees in both New Orleans and Plaquemines Parish. President Trump on Friday declared an emergency in Louisiana ahead of Nate and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.
New Orleans leaders issued a citywide mandatory curfew beginning at 7 pm Saturday and continuing into Sunday morning until "the severe weather has passed."
As Nola.com reports, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the curfew during a Friday news conference about the coming storm.
At a certain point, officials expect weather conditions to make travel impossible for first-responders, even in answer to emergency calls.
I encourage everyone to stay off streets starting tom. at 6 and until we are clear on Sunday, so we can keep you safe.
— Mitch Landrieu (@MayorLandrieu) October 6, 2017
Beyond New Orleans, some 18 million Gulf Coast residents were under threat as Hurricane Nate powered toward the mainland early Saturday, bringing with it rain and storm surges to parts of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
A hurricane warning is in effect for portions of the northern Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama, and preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion in these areas," the hurricane center said. "Life-threatening storm surge flooding is likely along portions of the northern Gulf Coast." A storm surge warning was in place from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Okaloosa-Walton county line in Florida.
— NASA SPoRT (@NASA_SPoRT) October 7, 2017
Forecasters expect Nate’s winds will be particularly devastating. The storm's reach will be wide, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, with strong winds affecting population centers from New Orleans to Panama City, Florida. Biloxi, Mississippi, could experience gusts of up to 100 mph as the storm tears down power lines. CNN says it could potentially leave one million people without power between eastern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle., according to Bloomberg.
The storm could also potentially drop 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 10 inches possible in some areas, from the central Gulf Coast north across the Deep South, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachians through Monday, the hurricane center said. Flash flooding like what was seen in Houston and Puerto Rico is a possibility.
The one upside of the storm’s aggressive pace is that it’s expected to pass quickly. Meteorologists expect it will be headed north across the Deep South, the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachians.
"Once it hits land, it looks like it's going to be very quick to move out of the area and then weaken," CNN meteorologist Jennifer Varian said.
Already, the storm’s impact on commodity markets is shaping up to be similar to the impact that Harvey and Irma had.
Orange-juice futures rallied on speculation that Nate may damage crops. Drillers including BP Plc and Chevron Corp. evacuated and shut oil and gas platforms in the Gulf. Phillips 66 was said to have reduced refining rates at the Alliance plant south of New Orleans, and the U.S. Coast Guard limited vessel traffic in the region.
Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 17 percent of U.S. oil output and 4% of gas production. Roughly 45 percent of petroleum refining capacity is on the coast. Gulf gas output may drop as much as 1.4 billion cubic feet a day, according to Shunondo Basu, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Bracing for the storm, governors across the Southeast have declared states of emergency. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in 29 counties, and 7,000 members of the National Guard have been made available for deployment.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency and advised residents to restock their emergency kits and make an evacuation plan, Russia Today reports.
“By Saturday noon you should be in your safe place,” Ivey told a news conference. “This is a fast-moving storm and we must begin preparing now."