The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Thursday that Tropical Storm Ida in the Caribbean Sea was likely to become a major hurricane and reach the United States on Sunday.
In its latest advisory, the center said an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter plane determined that Ida had formed and was about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west-southwest of Jamaica, moving northwest about 22 kph (14 mph).
The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 65 kph (40 mph). Forecasters said they expected it to strengthen into a hurricane as it moves to the west of Cuba and into the southern Gulf of Mexico.
"There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, especially along the coast of Louisiana," the hurricane center said.
Forecasters fear dramatic strengthening as the storm moves over the Gulf of Mexico. On her Twitter account, Mississippi State University atmospheric scientist Kim Wood said the storm track would take it over the warmest waters in the gulf.
She said the water in the area was about 30 degrees Celsius to a depth of 40 meters. “I don’t have words for that,” she said in the tweet.
Such extremely warm waters favor rapid strengthening after Ida enters the gulf Friday.
Forecasters said that while there was still a great deal of uncertainty, the forecast track would take the storm into Louisiana, which was hit hard by three major hurricanes last year. The hurricane center was already warning of a "life-threatening" storm surge when the storm makes landfall and the potential for damaging winds and flooding rain.
Forecasters said the storm track was still coming into focus and could shift in the next several days. They urged concerned citizens in the potential path to continue to watch the storm’s movement.