The storm was briefly the first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic season.

Tropical Storm Barry, which the National Weather Service said has brought 75 mph winds to the Gulf Coast, was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning as it made landfall in Louisiana. By Saturday afternoon, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. (To be considered a hurricane, a storm’s winds must reach at least 74 mph.)

A hurricane watch remains in effect in Louisiana from Intracoastal City to Grand Isle.

“On the forecast track, the center of Barry will move through southern Louisiana today, into central Louisiana tonight, and into northern Louisiana on Sunday,” the NWS said in a public advisory.

Forecasters expected a two-foot storm surge (when high winds force water ashore above normal tide levels), heavy rains, and strong winds to affect the Gulf Coast and warned residents to stay inside.

“Eighty-three percent of fatalities from these systems have been from inland rain,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said Saturday. “So let’s stay off the roads. Let’s prevent these preventable fatalities.”

The heavy rain is more dangerous than usual because Louisiana has suffered intense flooding over the past week due to other storms. A number of streets in New Orleans were already at dangerous water levels ahead of the hurricane, and some feared Barry could swell the Mississippi River so much that it would top the city’s levees (which vary in height from 20 to 25 feet).

Those fears have been allayed somewhat; the Mississippi River rose to 17.1 feet after a storm surge Friday, forecasters now expect its levels to decrease and the levees to hold.

Other rivers are also of concern, however.

The Comite River in Baton Rouge, for instance, is forecasted to rise to well over 30 feet Saturday, which would break the record of its previous flooding three years ago. At that time, the flooding killed 13 people, and damaged 140,000 homes resulting in at least $10 billion in property damage, according to meteorologist Bill Karins.

What we know

  • Flooding is expected to affect the Mississippi River Valley through next week. Beyond Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee could be affected.
  • Barry was upgraded from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday morning.
  • It was downgraded to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon (storms must have winds of at least 74 mph to be hurricanes).
  • Airlines have cancelled flights into and out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Normal operations are expected to resume Sunday.
  • Power began to go down ahead of Barry’s landfall. More than 90,000 Louisianians are currently without power.
  • The first major rescue was successfully executed early Saturday morning when the Coast Guard rescued multiple people in Isle of de Jean Charles, 45 miles south of New Orleans.
  • A levee in Plaquemines Parish south of New Orleans overflowed Saturday but officials said these are not the levees that protect the Mississippi River. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told CNN “the water is coming over the levee pretty good,” but said the levee can hold up to several hours of overflow. Should the overtopping last more than a few hours, however, major flooding would become likely.

  • National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said Saturday afternoon levees along the Mississippi River, are expected to hold; Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards confirmed that river won’t rise beyond 17.1 feet, well below the height of its levees.
  • Coastal communities in Mississippi and Alabama are seeing heavy rains despite their distance from Barry’s center; some are under flash flood warnings. Saturday afternoon, Mobile, Alabama saw rainfall of two to three inches per hour.

What we don’t know

  • If the flooding will overflow the levees that shore up the Mississippi River.
  • The extent of the damage.
  • The number of casualties.
  • When power will return.

Author: Gabriela Resto-Montero

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