The National Hurricane Center (NHC) published a tropical cyclone update Tuesday morning for Laura, indicating the storm strengthened from a tropical storm to hurricane status in the overnight hours and could deliver a devastating punch to the Gulf Coast late Wednesday.
"NOAA Hurricane Hunter reports that Laura has become a hurricane," NHC's statement read, adding that data from the hurricane hunter aircraft showed maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, with higher gusts.
"Significant strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Laura is expected to be a major hurricane at landfall," NHC warned.
"Residents along the Texas and Louisiana coasts should anticipate the possibility that Laura will rapidly intensify right up until landfall," said meteorologist Jeff Masters of Yale Climate Connections, who was quoted by AP News.
Tracking models already suggest landfall will be along the upper Texas coast or southwest Lousiana late Wednesday or Thursday morning.
"In addition to the fierce winds, the hurricane is expected to bring a huge storm surge of Gulf seawater ashore, forecasters warned, potentially as high as 11 feet near the Texas/Louisiana border. On top of that, up to 15 inches of rain could fall in some spots in Louisiana," AP said.
Port Arthur, Texas, Mayor Thurman Bartie issued mandatory evacuations for the metro area's 54,000 residents ahead of the landfall.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Monday:
"We're only going to dodge the bullet so many times. And the current forecast for Laura has it focused intently on Louisiana."
State emergencies have already been announced in Louisiana and Mississippi as Laura continues to churn in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Marco struck the Gulf Coast on Monday has been downgraded to a Tropical Depression.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has been a record-breaking year so far. Laura is the earliest L-named storm in the Atlantic Basin. At the start of the season, we outlined how there could be "above average" storms, "with 13 to 19 named storms."