After “wobbling,” as the National Hurricane Center put it late Thursday, Ida resumed a more stable northwest heading on Friday, actually directed by a high pressure air ridge off the southeastern United States.
The ridge was expected to move west, forecasters said, which should keep the storm on this general stretch over the weekend, swirling across the Gulf of Mexico and most likely landing in Louisiana late Sunday.
Ida had maximum sustained winds of nearly 100 mph on Friday lunchtime and became a Category 1 hurricane with winds in excess of 73 mph before hitting land in western Cuba.
The crucial question for residents and emergency authorities along the Gulf Coast is how much stronger it will get in the days after passing through Cuba and before hitting the mainland.
The hurricane center said the storm should steadily intensify through Saturday, but it could get much stronger very quickly after that. Ida could develop into a major hurricane in the 24 hours prior to landing – defined as Category 3 or higher with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
Research over the past decade has found that, on average, hurricanes intensify so rapidly that the oceans that provide the energy for hurricanes get warmer from man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.
The hurricane center defines rapid intensification as an increase in sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour over 24 hours. In the highly active 2020 season, Hurricane Laura intensified 45 mph in the 24 hours before hitting land in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in late August.
The Gulf of Mexico is very warm right now as it is usually towards the end of summer so there is more energy available for Ida. Wind shear or changes in wind speed and direction that had affected Ida’s cyclone structure should also resolve. The storm should then become more organized, which allows it to intensify more quickly.