Potential Tropical Cyclone Two strengthened and organized into the second tropical storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season this morning. Barry has formed over the northern Gulf of Mexico, and will bring hurricane conditions to parts of Louisiana this weekend.
Barry will continue to intensify slowly prior to landfall as the central low pressure deepens while moving over the very warm waters. Sea surface temperatures are in the mid 80s to low 90s across the region Barry is crossing, so that should help it strengthen. Wind shear is also weak for the most part, although the extreme eastern part of the storm is dealing with some shear. There is also the issue of dry air aloft across the northern half of the storm. If this persists, then that can prevent the storm from further strengthening. Despite this, however, the model guidance suggests an improvement in environment conditions late-week, which should allow Barry to become a high-end tropical storm or low-end Category 1 hurricane.
So the intensity forecast is still uncertain and thus so is Barry’s exact track. We are becoming more and more confident in a landfall on Louisiana, but the exact location is yet to be determined. Based on the ensemble guidance, which are different members of a model that consider slightly different environmental conditions, there is still a fairly significant range of possibilities of where landfall will take place. When looking at the mean of these ensemble members, however, the most likely location for landfall at this time is the south-central Louisiana coast, which is what the National Hurricane Center is currently forecasting.
Now while the landfall point will be crucial to determining where the strongest of winds will be felt, winds are not the greatest threat posed by Barry.
Rather, it’s the rain. Over 2 feet of rain will fall across parts of the lower Mississippi River Valley. In fact, the flood threat is so intense that the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center (WPC) has issued a High Risk for southeastern Louisiana for Saturday. That’s 3 days from now. The WPC has only issued a High Risk for day 3 of their outlook two other times — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — which both took place within the past 2 years.
We are obviously very concerned about the City of New Orleans. Water levels in the Mississippi River are very high right now due to the heavy rains that have affected the Midwest these past several months. Once Barry begins to dump heavy rain over the city and this portion of the river, that will lead to a spike in the water level. Based on the latest forecast from the National Weather Service, water levels are expected to rise to 19 feet. That is just 1 foot away from the tops of most of the levees that protect the city from flooding from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Some of the levees are shorter than 20 feet, so a very serious situation may be unfolding for New Orleans, a city that has already experienced bad flooding this week.
In addition to the rain and wind threats from Barry, storm surge will be an issue. Storm Surge Warnings are in effect for some, meaning that life-threatening inundation of water is possible. The National Hurricane Center is currently forecasting 3-6 feet of surge from the Mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Shell Beach, 2-4 feet from Shell Beach to the Mississippi/Alabama border and from Intracoastal City to the Mouth of the Atchafalaya River, and 1-3 feet along Lake Pontchartrain.
A few tornadoes will also be possible as the storm makes landfall Saturday morning, while rough surf and rip currents are already beginning impact much of the northern Gulf Coast of the US.
Below is an overall look at Tropical Storm Barry’s severity threat:
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