As of 2pm EDT, Gustav’s winds are up to 70 mph (from 65), and its pressure is down to 984 mb (from 988). The storm could become a hurricane “AT ANY TIME TODAY,” and could become a major hurricane before swiping western Cuba tomorrow. [UPDATE: It is now a hurricane, as of 3:15 PM EDT, with 75 mph winds.]
Visible satellite at 2:45 PM EDT.
After it exits Cuba, all bets are off. Intensification in the Gulf to Category 4 or 5 status is very much in the mix — though, if that happens, it would probably then weaken somewhat before landfall.
The Houston Chronicle‘s Eric Berger is hosting a live chat on Gustav right now. He has been repeatedly emphasizing the uncertainty surrounding the storm’s track, but, interestingly, when asked whether he thinks the storm is more likely to deviate east or west of the current forecast track, Berger said east is more likely.
I may have jumped the gun with my earlier post about a possible Texas landfall, at least in terms of the perceptions created by the headline. I was just trying to point to a possible trend in the models, but the fact is, the forecast remains extremely unsettled, and the models are all over the place. A Texas landfall is certainly possible, but Louisiana remains the prime target for now.
Meanwhile, this is very significant:
Visible satellite loops show that Gustav has significantly expanded in size in the past few hours, and now presents a rather intimidating appearance. Gustav is going to be a large and dangerous hurricane by Saturday. Upper-level outflow is established in all quadrants, low-level spiral bands are multiplying and intensifying, and the amount and intensity of Gustav’s heavy thunderstorms are steadily increasing. There is no eye yet, but that should appear by this evening. Radar from Pilon, Cuba shows the developing spiral bands of Gustav quite well. Dry air is not evident anywhere close to Gustav.
That’s from Dr. Jeff Masters, who promises another post this afternoon discussing “an analysis of [Gustav’s] likely size at landfall, and discussion about when it would be good to evacuate New Orleans.”
Earlier, the site hosted a live chat with T-P hurricane reporter Mark Schleifstein, who made this excellent point:
I’m concerned that some will … base their decisionmaking [about whether to evacuate] on their Katrina experience, as in not leaving if they live uptown. If this storm does come in as a Category 3 as a direct hit, well, we’ve not seen anything like what that experience will be.
It bears repeating: Katrina was not the worst-case scenario for New Orleans. Not by a long shot.
Meanwhile, kickoff for tomorrow’s LSU-Appalachian State game has been moved from 4pm to 10am, and all pre-game festivities have been canceled.