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Tropical Storm Laura soaking northern Caribbean, sets course for U.S.

By UPI Staff & Jake Sojda, Accuweather.com
Tropical Storm Laura soaking northern Caribbean, sets course for U.S.
Tropical Storm Laura will continue to batter the islands of the northern Caribbean early this week before delivering another blow to the U.S. Gulf Coast mere days after Marco. Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Tropical Storm Laura will continue to batter the islands of the northern Caribbean early this week before delivering another blow to the U.S. Gulf Coast mere days after Marco.

People along the central Gulf Coast may have to deal with two landfalling hurricanes just days apart, following Marco's becoming a hurricane Sunday and landfall along the Louisiana coastline early this week.

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"Rainfall from Laura may fall across the same places that received tremendous rainfall from Marco, further exacerbating the flooding situation along the Gulf Coast," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio said.

Laura developed in the Atlantic just a couple of hundred miles east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands on Friday morning, shattering the record for the earliest L-named storm on record in the basin. The previous "L-storm" record was held by Luis, which formed on Aug. 29, 1995.

RELATED Newly formed Tropical Storm Marco to eye Mexico, then US

As of 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center placed Tropical Storm Laura about 30 miles west of Guantanamo, Cuba, moving west-northwest at 21 mph.

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Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the entire coast of Haiti, Little Cayman and Cayman Braxz and Cuban provinces. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Florida Keys to Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Warnings for Inagua and the Ragged Islands in southeastern Bahamas have been discontinued.

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Though Laura is expected to maintain its 60 mph winds as it skirts the coast of Cuba, it is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane late Tuesday after strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico.

In the meanwhile, Laura has already unleashed a damaging blow across the islands of the northern Caribbean, with Puerto Rico being especially hard hit.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency and warned residents to stay inside as downpours and gusty winds drenched the island early this weekend. Nearly 6 inches of rain fell in some areas, prompting flood warnings. The Rio Guanajibo River near Hormigueros has risen about 6 feet as of Saturday night.

RELATED Weather service increases odds of 'extremely active' Atlantic storm season

As conditions quiet down in Puerto Rico with Laura moving away, rain and gusty winds will continue to spread westward with the storm through Hispaniola, the southern Bahamas, Cuba and the Florida Keys through Monday.

People across these areas should be prepared for tropical storm conditions, as an average, as the storm moves along, along with the risk for flash flooding, power outages and damage.

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With the current forecast for some gusty winds and downpours to the northern Caribbean, Laura will be less than one on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes, a scale that rates tropical systems from less than one to 5 based on expected impacts.

Officials in the Florida Keys declared a local State of Emergency at noon on Friday, ordering a mandatory evacuation for local residents living in boats, mobile homes or any recreational vehicles, such as campers. A warning issued by Monroe County encouraged travelers visiting the area to alter their plans so they are not in the Florida Keys by noon on Sunday.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a State of Emergency on Friday evening as well for the state in an effort to allow local governments assistance in preparation at a state level.

"It shouldn't be lost on anyone that in addition to these weather threats, we still have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic," Edwards tweeted, explaining that personal protective equipment should be new additions to emergency kits, including masks and hand sanitizer.

Ahead of both storms' arrival in Louisiana, President Donald Trump on Sunday approved an emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts.

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards had requested the declaration from the White House on Saturday.

"This is unlike anything we have seen, with two hurricanes expected to impact our state nearly back to back," he said. "This may mean that people will have to shelter in place for more than 72 hours and that there may not be time to do things like restore lost power between the two storms."

Tropical-storm-force winds of 40-60 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 70 mph will sweep through Hispaniola and Cuba into Monday.

While Laura may lose some wind intensity due to interaction with land as it continues its journey across the northern Caribbean, forecasters say the impacts of the storm are likely to be the same, regardless of wind intensity.

Heavy rain from the storm can average 4-8 inches with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 12 inches across Hispaniola and Cuba, leading to flash flooding, washouts and mudslides.

"Some tropical-storm-force wind gusts of 40-50 mph can reach the Florida Keys Monday," Rossio said.

"Once the primary circulation of Laura emerges over the waters of the southeastern Gulf of Mexico late Monday into Tuesday, environmental conditions will be more favorable for strengthening, and Laura is expected to become a hurricane prior to reaching the Gulf Coast," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.

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The forecast track of Laura is based on the anticipated strengthening and westward extension of the Bermuda-Azores high-pressure area, which will push the storm into the central Gulf of Mexico.

Should the high fail to strengthen and extend westward, there would be room for an earlier northward turn, but forecasters say the chance of this scenario panning out is rather low at this point. In turn, if the high expands farther west than currently forecast, this could push Laura into the western Gulf Coast, and possibly put Houston at risk for more severe impacts.

Tropical-storm-force winds will reach the central Gulf Coast later Tuesday into Wednesday, with wind gusts of 60-80 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax wind gust of 90 mph.

"These winds can cause power outages and damage to weak structures and trees," Rossio said.

All residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast will need to closely monitor the progress of Marco and Laura and begin making preparations now, along with following evacuation orders from local officials.

Before Laura's formation, Cristobal, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine and Kyle had all set new records for their designated letters in 2020. With the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season already way ahead of the average pace and surpassing marks left by the notorious 2005 hurricane season, and the height of the hurricane season looming from the end of August to early October, not only are more records likely to be set, but there is also the likelihood that lives and property will be threatened in the weeks ahead.

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The lid could soon come off the Atlantic basin with the potential for multiple named systems spinning at the same time, including multiple threats to lives and property at the same time from the Caribbean to North America.

AccuWeather meteorologists are expecting a hyperactive year for tropical storms and hurricanes -- enough that Greek letters may once again be needed. Due to 2020's record pace and upcoming conditions expected in the basin, AccuWeather meteorologists upped their forecast for the number of tropical storms in late July, with up to 24 now predicted and up to 11 hurricanes projected for the season.

Tropical storms are named for most letters of the alphabet, with the exception of Q, U, X, Y and Z. Beyond that, Greek letters are used to name systems. The infamous 2005 Atlantic hurricane season holds the record for the greatest number of named storms at 28, and 2005 was the only year to use Greek letters.

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