Tropical Storm Cristobal, which forced evacuations and killed many people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, is expected to make landfall Sunday evening in Louisiana, where officials have declared a state of emergency.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared the emergency on Thursday, warning residents they should prepare to evacuate their homes ahead of tropical storm-like conditions. Officials in states vulnerable to hurricanes have acknowledged that finding safe shelter elsewhere could be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“While it is still too early to know for sure what impact Cristobal could have on Louisiana, now is the time to make your plans,” Mr. Edwards said in a statement that urged people to prepare a supply of face coverings, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
Cristobal, the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, followed Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha, which arrived before the official start of the season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.
Last month, Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the coast of Florida and approached North Carolina, making 2020 the sixth year in a row in which a named storm has slipped in before the official start of the season.
An analysis of satellite images dating to 1979 shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades, supporting the theory that climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive.
The analysis shows that warming has increased the likelihood of a hurricane developing into a major one of Category 3 or higher, with sustained winds greater than 110 miles an hour.
Cristobal is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana on Sunday evening.
But the winds and storm surge preceding its arrival could wreak havoc as far east as the western Florida Panhandle and Tampa Bay, said Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Tropical storm-force winds could move as far inland as New Orleans, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Within the next 48 hours, storm surge along parts of Louisiana, the Mississippi coast and the Florida Big Bend region has the potential to be life-threatening, according to the center.
“What we want people to be particularly aware of is the hazards associated with this storm,” Mr. Berg said. “Strong winds, storm surge, heavy rainfall and flooding.”
Mr. Berg said hurricane specialists are expecting Cristobal to strengthen to about 60 m.p.h. before it reaches land.
He said people tend to feel safe if they see the center of a storm will be far from their region, but Cristobal could unleash effects felt hundreds of miles from the center hours before it makes landfall.
Cristobal and Tropical Storm Amanda, the first storm of the Pacific hurricane season, have been blamed for the deaths of 30 people in parts of Mexico and Central America, which was hit with heavy flooding and landslides.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an especially busy hurricane season, with a high probability of six to 10 hurricanes. Three to six of those hurricanes could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5.
An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and three of those evolving into major hurricanes.