Damaging winds and flash flooding are likely even as the storm further weakens

Laura was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm midday Thursday, centered about 50 miles east-southeast of Shreveport, La. Briskly headed north at 16 mph, Laura’s peak winds were 70 mph. On Thursday morning, Alexandria International Airport recorded a wind gust of 86 mph.

Forecast for northern Louisiana, eastern Texas, western Mississippi and Arkansas

As the storm sweeps inland, it will continue to unleash gusts up to 70 mph in northern Louisiana and adjacent areas of East Texas. These winds are likely to topple trees and knock out power. More than half a million customers were without power in Louisiana and Texas on Thursday morning.

Torrential rain was falling north of the area between Shreveport and Monroe, La. Radar indicated up to half a foot of rain had fallen just south of this zone, with the most intense rain swelling northward into Arkansas.

The rain should exit northern Louisiana by Thursday evening and should exit Arkansas, from south to north, during the first half of Friday.

Up to 4 to 8 inches of rain could fall, with locally higher amounts. “This rainfall will continue to cause widespread flash and urban flooding, small streams and creeks to overflow their banks, and minor to moderate freshwater river flooding,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.

Thunderstorms embedded within Laura’s rain bands were likely to rotate in some instances, and a tornado watch was in effect until 5 p.m. Thursday for most of Louisiana, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi.

The worst of Laura’s winds will wane once the center of the storm reaches southern Arkansas, but tropical-storm-force gusts over 39 mph could still occur as far north as Little Rock.

Forecast for the Tennessee Valley and the Mid-Atlantic

After tracking through Arkansas, Laura will mark a hard right turn to the east and likely diminish to a depression. The forecast path tracks Laura across Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia between Friday night through Saturday night.

As the system sweeps across the Mid-Atlantic, it will retain a core of heavy rain and gusty winds, up to 30 to 40 mph.

“Through Saturday, Laura is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 5 inches across the mid-Mississippi Valley and portions of the Tennessee and Lower Ohio Valley, the central Appalachians and the Mid-Atlantic States,” the National Hurricane Center predicted.

This rainfall could cause some isolated pockets of flooding.

Laura is also likely to generate some strong thunderstorms in both the Tennessee Valley and Mid-Atlantic, including some tornadoes, especially south and east of its track.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has declared a slight risk of severe thunderstorms just south and east of the storm track Friday and Saturday. Damaging winds and a few tornadoes are the main hazards of concern.

Storm in perspective

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Laura’s intensity leaped from a Category 1 to a high-end Category 4, strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico at the fastest rate on record (tied with one other storm). It made landfall with 150 mph sustained winds in Cameron, La., at 2 a.m. Thursday as the strongest hurricane on record to hit southwestern Louisiana.

Lake Charles, La., was one of the hardest-hit areas and clocked a wind gust of 132 mph as the storm’s eyewall, the zone of extreme winds surrounding the center, barged through. Damage was extensive in the city.

Preliminary storm-surge data indicate that seas rose at least nine feet above normally dry land. Although that number is lower than the projected 15 to 20 feet, observing stations are few along the Louisiana coast, so the true height of the maximum surge is not yet known.

Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, tweeted that Laura is the strongest storm, by wind speed, to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856. These peak winds of 150 mph also rank among the top 10 among all hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States.

The other storms to make landfall in the continental United States so far in 2020 are:

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