Laura first hit the Lesser Antilles and brushed Puerto Rico as a tropical storm, then moved across the island of Hispaniola, killing 31 people in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic. The storm then moved across the length of Cuba, prompting tropical storm warnings and the evacuation of more than 260,000 people there. Subsequently, the outer rainbands extended into the Florida Keys and South Florida. Laura then moved across the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening slowly at first, before a period of rapid intensification on August 26. That day, Laura became a major hurricane, and later attained its peak 1-minute sustained winds of 150 mph (240 km/h), making it a Category 4 hurricane. The approaching storm prompted the issuing of many warnings and watches for Louisiana, as well as the evacuation of many people.
Early on August 27, Laura made landfall near peak intensity on Cameron, Louisiana. Laura was the tenth-strongest U.S. hurricane that made landfall by windspeed on record. The effects of Laura across Louisiana were devastating. Nearly 10 foot high storm surge was recorded in Cameron Parish. Numerous parishes had severe flooding and extreme damage to houses. Several roads had to be closed, and drivers were advised to use different routes. The storm caused the deaths of 33 people in the state alone. Texas and Arkansas were struck notably hard as well. The storm caused the deaths of at least 42 people in the U.S. and inflicted an estimated $19 billion in damages on southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. After landfall, Laura weakened as it moved inland, becoming a tropical storm later that day, and weakening further to a tropical depression over Arkansas the next day. On August 29, Laura degenerated into a remnant low over Kentucky, before being absorbed into another extratropical storm near the East Coast of the U.S. shortly afterward. Overall, Laura caused more than $19.1 billion in damage and 81 deaths. Areas that were affected by Laura, namely the Gulf Coast, were affected again six weeks later by Hurricane Delta.
On August 16, 2020, a tropical wave along the eastern end of a monsoon trough emerged off the west coast of Africa over the Atlantic Ocean. At this time, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) noted the possibility of tropical cyclogenesis over the next five days as environmental conditions gradually became more favorable for development. The system produced disorganized convection over a broad area, and steadily consolidated. A surface low accompanied by organizing banding features coalesced about 700 mi (1,120 km) west-southwest of the Cape Verde islands. By 03:00 UTC on August 20, the low and accompanying convection became sufficiently organized to be classified as a tropical depression, the thirteenth of the season, about 1,035 mi (1,670 km) east-southeast of the Leeward Islands. The depression moved briskly west-northwest in response to the Bermuda High to the north, a high that would steer the system throughout its lifetime. After struggling to intensify for over a day, the depression center reformed and an increase an organization and the presence of tropical storm-force winds prompted an upgrade to tropical storm status and storm was named Laura. This marked the earliest classification of a season's twelfth named storm since reliable records began in 1851, surpassing the previous record set by Hurricane Luis, on August 28, 1995. Moderate wind shear hampered further development through August 22, displacing the bulk of convection east of the surface circulation. Early on August 22, Laura traversed the Virgin Islands and sideswiped Puerto Rico to the south before making landfall in the southeastern Dominican Republic with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) early on August 23.
Despite interacting with the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola, the overall structure of Laura actually improved with little intensity loss. Laura subsequently traversed Haiti and emerged over the Windward Passage. Once back over water, the storm intensified some and made a brief landfall around 00:00 UTC on August 24 in Santiago de Cuba Province, Cuba, with winds of 60–65 mph (95–100 km/h) before emerging over the Caribbean along Cuba's southern coast. Laura's structure briefly degraded on August 24 before it reorganized and traversed Pinar del Río Province in western Cuba, early on August 25. Maintaining a west-northwest trajectory, Laura entered the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and quickly organized throughout August 25, reaching hurricane-strength by 12:15 UTC. After moving out of an area of dry air, the hurricane began a period of rapid intensification on August 26. The storm grew in size and featured a well-defined eye surrounded by increasingly symmetric deep convection. By 12:00 UTC, Laura strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson scale before becoming a Category 4 hurricane six hours later. Continuing to strengthen into August 27, Laura reached its peak intensity of 150 miles per hour (240 km/h), a high-end Category 4 hurricane, and a minimum pressure of 937 mbar (hPa; 27.67 inHg). At this time, the hurricane turned north toward the Texas–Louisiana coastline within a weakness along the western edge of the Bermuda High.
Animated loop of Laura making landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, early on August 27 from the Lake Charles (KLCH) radar, before it failed at 12:53 a.m CDT (05:53 UTC).
The radar after Laura.
Little change in intensity took place in the few hours before Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, around 06:00 UTC on August 27 near peak strength, as its pressure had risen by 2 mbar. Laura matched the strength of the 1856 Last Island hurricane for strongest landfall in the state and was the first Category 4 landfall on record in southwestern Louisiana. Progressing inland across southwestern Louisiana, Laura produced destructive winds over a wide area, although the storm rapidly weakened as it progressed farther inland. Steady filling of the storm and the disappearance of its eye ensued throughout the day, and Laura weakened to a tropical storm by 17:00 UTC about 50 miles (80 km) east-southeast of Shreveport. Maintaining tropical storm-force winds, the system progressed into southwestern Arkansas. By August 28, Laura degraded to a tropical depression over central Arkansas; heavy rain became the primary threat across the Southeast. Around that time, the NHC issued their final advisory on Laura, passing on the responsibility for issuing advisories to the Weather Prediction Center (WPC). Gradually losing tropical characteristics, the weakening storm accelerated east-northeast within the mid-latitude westerlies. The system ultimately degenerated into a remnant low over Kentucky early on August 29, as it began merging with an approaching extratropical storm. Laura's remnant low continued moving eastward, before being absorbed into the approaching extratropical system several hours later over Maryland.
In preparation for the storm, schools were closed in Anguilla and Antigua. A tropical storm watch was issued for several islands in the group on August 20, being upgraded to a warning the next day. The storm prompted the closing of all ports in the British Virgin Islands.
A tropical storm warning was issued covering the coast from Punta Palenque to the northern Haitian border. A red alert was also issued for 18 provinces, a yellow alert for 8, and a green alert for 6.
Haitian authorities urged people to evacuate to shelters, and to remember to wear masks and respect social distancing orders in the areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jamaica and Cayman Islands
Although the center of Laura was forecast to remain north of Jamaica, associated rainbands on the southern side of the circulation were anticipated to bring significant precipitation. On August 23, the Jamaican Meteorological Service issued a flash flood watch for low-lying areas nationwide. This was later upgraded to a flash flood warning on August 24 as torrential rains affected the nation.
Originally, the bulk of the storm was forecasted to stay north of the Cayman Islands, but as the forecast kept on shifting further southwest of earlier forecast, the projections of significant precipitation and for Tropical Storm conditions continued to increase. The Cayman Islands Government issued Tropical Storm Warning for their Islands on August 23. This was in addition to the Severe Weather Statements and Flood Warnings that were already posted.
Ahead of Laura's first landfall in Cuba on August 23, tropical storm watches and warnings were issued throughout the nation. At one point, the western tip of Cuba was under both a tropical storm watch from Laura and a tropical storm warning from Hurricane Marco at the same time. Officials evacuated 106,000 people in Santiago de Cuba Province, 81,300 in Holguín Province, and 12,000 in Guantánamo Province. Power was preemptively cut across Guantánamo Province as a precautionary measure. On August 24, a further 45,000 people in Villa Clara Province, 16,466 people in Matanzas Province, and 300 in Ciego de Ávila Province were evacuated. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic complicated evacuation efforts, resulting in typical evacuation shelters such as schools not being opened. Those suspected of being infected were relocated to quarantine centers. Residents nationwide were alerted to the potential of widespread flooding as many reservoirs were at or near capacity.
Forecast tracks and accompanying hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings 21:00 UTC on August 22 for Marco (left) and Laura (right). At the time, both cyclones were forecast to make landfall in Louisiana as hurricanes. Marco did hit on August 24, but as a tropical storm, and Laura hit on August 27 as a major hurricane.
Hurricanes Marco and Laura threatened a large swath of oil rigs positioned across the Gulf of Mexico. By August 23, approximately 58 percent of oil production and 45 percent of natural gas production was shut down; this included the evacuation of 114 platforms. By August 25, 299 of 643 platforms and 27 of 28 mobile rigs were evacuated. Seven tornado watches were issued for this storm. They included the Coastal Waters as well as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. The staff at the NWS Lake Charles office also evacuated, warnings for their area being issued by NWS Brownsville. Three rare Extreme Wind Warnings were issued for Louisiana and Texas as Laura approached landfall.
On August 21, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for southern counties in the state. A mobile hospital unit was pre-staged in Marion County and personal protection equipment kits were readied for distribution to shelters. A tropical storm watch was issued for the Florida Keys as the storm approached, although the north side of the area was dropped when Laura went farther south than expected. The rest were eventually upgraded to warnings. The mayor of Monroe County, Heather Carruthers declared a local state of emergency, and mandatory evacuations for mobile homes and boats, although visitors were allowed to stay.
Hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge watches were issued for areas mainly near and east of Galveston on August 24. Most were upgraded to warnings the next day and a flash flood watch was also issued for the eastern portion of the state.
On August 23, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency for 23 counties in eastern Texas. On August 25, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for low-lying areas of Chambers, Galveston and Jefferson counties, and for the entirety of Orange County. This included the entirety of the Bolivar Peninsula and cities of Galveston and Port Arthur. Galveston city officials advised residents that all city services would cease at noon on August 25 and upon the arrival of tropical storm-force winds, emergency services would be suspended. A total of 50 busses were used to assist in evacuations. A voluntary evacuation order was issued for coastal areas of Brazoria and Harris counties. An estimated 385,000 people were under evacuation orders in the state, including the entire city of Beaumont.
Hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge watches were issued for almost the entire coastline on August 24. This came just hours after the southeastern portion of the state had their tropical storm and storm surge warnings for Marco cancelled. Most of the watches were upgraded to warnings the next day and a flash flood watch was also issued for the western half of the state as over 10 inches (250 mm) of rain was expected. As the threat of surge increased for the coastline, the NHC stated that there would be "unsurvivable storm surge with large and destructive waves."
Despite being well away from the center of the storm, the coastline of Mississippi was placed under a storm surge watch from Ocean Springs westward on August 24 due to the massive size of Laura. However, these were dropped before the storm made landfall. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on August 22 due to both Hurricanes Laura and Marco threatening the state, which the federal government granted on August 24.
Search and rescue teams were put on standby as Governor Asa Hutchinson declared an emergency ahead of Hurricane Laura and set aside $250,000 to prepare for the storm's impacts. One day later President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the state of Arkansas. For the first time in the state's history the National Weather Service issued tropical storm watches and warnings for several southern counties of Arkansas with local forecasters predicting that areas southeast of Little Rock face the greatest risk of damage.
Laura caused widespread devastation throughout most of its path with tropical-storm force winds going over almost all of the Antillean Islands, hurricane and tropical-storm force winds impacting parts of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and flooding rain and storm surge affecting a large portion of the storm's path. Losses are estimated at over $19.1 billion, and at least 81 people were killed, with 63 of them coming from Haiti and Louisiana alone, making Laura the 16th-costliest hurricane on record. With agricultural losses estimated at $1.6 billion, Laura did more agriculture damages in Louisiana than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita combined.
Tropical Storm Laura over the Mona Passage, approaching the Dominican Republic and Haiti on August 22
Tropical Storm Laura brought damaging winds and flooding rains to much of the Dominican Republic. Precipitation was heaviest along the southern coast, with a peak 24-hour accumulation of 11.7 in (300 mm) in Barahona. Approximately 1.1 million people lost power while 1.56 million people experienced disruption to water services. Early assessments as of August 24 indicated significant damage to 1,791 homes, prompting the evacuation of 8,995 people. In Santo Domingo, a woman and her son died after their house collapsed, due to the rain brought by Laura, and in Pedro Brand, a man died when a tree fell on his house. Severe flooding was reported across Santo Domingo. A police officer lost his life after falling on a downed electric cable in the Elías Piña Province.
Similar to the Dominican Republic, heavy precipitation affected much of Haiti; a personal weather station in Port-au-Prince measured 6.61 in (168 mm) of rain. Extensive flooding affected the nation, forcing many families to evacuate their homes. As of August 28, at least 31 people were confirmed dead with another 8 missing. The Péligre Dam overflowed, sending floodwaters down the Artibonite valley. Public Works Minister Nader Joaseus alerted residents that the dam could collapse. Agriculture suffered significant damage as the nation struggled with COVID-19 related food shortages. Flooding damaged 447 homes and destroyed 15 others across the Artibonite department.
Tropical Storm Laura over the Gulf of Batabanó near its second Cuban landfall on August 24
After clearing Hispaniola, Tropical Storm Laura brought damaging winds and flooding rains to Southeastern Cuba on August 23–24. Wind gusts reached 91 mph (146 km/h) in Maisí, tearing roofs off homes and downing trees. Rainfall reached 9.51 in (241.5 mm) in Complejo Palma, Santiago de Cuba, and 7.50 in (190.6 mm) in San Antonio del Sur, Guantánamo. Damage across Holguín Province was relatively limited; some structures and crops were damaged and scattered power outages occurred. A bridge in Buey Arriba, Granma Province, collapsed due to flooding, which isolated 30 communities. A station in Cabo Cruz recorded sustained winds of 50 mph (80 km/h) and a gust of 65 mph (104 km/h). Minor flooding and power outages occurred in Las Tunas Province.
Jamaica and Cayman Islands
Flash flooding across Jamaica caused significant disruptions to road infrastructure. A weather station in Negril observed 4.97 in (126 mm) of rain. A landslide blocked the main road to Gordon Town; unstable terrain hampered efforts to clear debris. A bridge in Saint Thomas Parish was washed away, isolating residents of Trinityville, Georgia, and Cedar Valley. Additionally, the main road connecting Papine to Dallas Castle in Bull Bay collapsed. Wind gusts reached 35 to 40 mph (56 to 64 km/h) along southern coastlines near Kingston, and in Montego Bay on the country's north coast. Initial damage estimates totaled to around J$54 million (US$360,000) according to Jamaica's National Works Agency (NWA).
Rounds of gusty winds and heavy rainfall affected the Cayman Islands as Laura passed just to the north.
Hurricane Laura produced at least 16 tornadoes in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. The preliminary insured damages from Hurricane Laura in Texas and Louisiana were estimated at $19 billion. Laura became the first major hurricane to strike the mainland United States since Michael in October 2018.
Radar image showing Tropical Storm Laura passing south of Puerto Rico on August 22
In Puerto Rico, Laura downed trees and caused flooding in Salinas. Part of the Salinas city sign was also blown over during the storm. A peak of 4.09 in (104 mm) of precipitation was reported in Villalba, with a peak wind gust of 75 miles per hour (120 km/h) being reported in Salinas. Roughly 200,000 customers lost power in Puerto Rico, with nearly 14,000 losing access to running water.
Cameron saw at least 9.19 feet (2.80 m) of storm surge.Holly Beach was extensively damaged as an RV was destroyed and several homes suffered roof damage. Storm surge flooding also covered SH 82. The town of Hackberry was severely damaged by storm surge flooding and two trains were derailed in Grand Lake, where the Grand Lake High School suffered damage.
Members of the Louisiana National Guard assessing storm damage in Lake Charles
Severe damage occurred throughout Lake Charles with widespread catastrophic-level damage to residential and commercial building roofs and structure, as well as half of all matured trees either blown down, badly stripped of branches, or 'broken over'. Double- and Triple-KVA (kilovolt-amp) power transmission towers and lines feeding power throughout the area were heavily damaged and/or destroyed. An RV was blown over and many mobile homes in parks were knocked off of their mounts, some rolled over, older ones stripped of their siding and gutted. The Lake Charles Regional Airport saw a wind gust of 128 miles per hour (206 km/h) as well as multiple hangars destroyed. Another wind gust in the city reached 137 miles per hour (220 km/h). Many windows were blown out of Capital One Tower in Downtown Lake Charles.
Last radar image of the NEXRAD in Lake Charles of the landing in Louisiana.
Before the hurricane made landfall, one person was killed and another injured after rough surf from Laura slammed them against jetties in Corpus Christi on August 26. Another man died after he was electrocuted while preparing for the storm. Eastern Texas saw a few tornado warnings as Laura neared landfall on August 26 as well. Coastal water rises in the southeast part of the state began at around 20:00 UTC that same day. Wind gusts in both Houston and Galveston peaked at 38 miles per hour (61 km/h). A wind gust of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h) was recorded at Kirbyville Raws site near Call and trees were downed in Groves. In Port Arthur, trees were downed, including one that fell on a house, and a parking lot lamp snapped at its base. A large tree also fell on and damaged a house in Beaumont. Structural damage occurred in near Pinehurst just west of Orange, where multiple trees and power lines where downed and several structures, including a church, were damaged. Structural damage also occurred in Bridge City. More trees and power lines were blown down across both Angelina and Sabine Counties, some of which blocked roads. In Hemphill, a roof collapsed at an Ashley HomeStore and multiple roads were blocked by falling trees. A man was killed northeast of the town when a tree fell on him while he was sitting on a recliner in his home. Southeast of the city, trees fell on homes and blocked all exits in the McGee's Landing Area. East of Center, a tree and power lines fell on FM 417 and FM 2694. Following the storm, five people died in Southeast Texas in four separate incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of improperly-placed generators. One person in Newton County was also killed in the cleanup process.
Laura entered Arkansas while still at tropical storm strength. Numerous tornado warnings were issued in Arkansas with eight tornadoes confirmed in the state, the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded in the state during the month of August. A high-end EF1 tornado caused significant damage to a church in Lake City, though no one was hurt or injured. This same storm dropped another high-end EF1 tornado north of Brookland. A rare PDS tornado warning was also issued for this tornado. The storm then dropped its strongest tornado, which was rated low-end EF2, which damaged structures and homes southwest of Maynard. Widespread flash flood warnings were issued throughout the state. A 57 miles per hour (92 km/h) wind gust was recorded just south of El Dorado, causing several trees and power lines to fall, two of which landed on houses. This caused many power outages in Union County. Numerous trees were downed in the Doddridge area, including one on US 71, causing numerous power outages. South of Bradley near the Louisiana/Arkansas state line, a tree fell on AR 29, blocking the road.AR 343 was shut down between Lewisville and AR 53 due to falling trees. Trees were downed on power lines in Dermott and a barn also had its roof removed in Wilmot.
Trees and power lines were downed across a widespread area in several counties. In the town of Camden, numerous trees were blown down, including one that fell on a house, and a metal roof was blown off a shop building. Downed trees were also reported in Sheridan and power poles were snapped along US 67 northeast of Caddo Valley. Eastbound I-30 was shut down west of Hope at mile marker 26 due to a downed tree blocking both lanes of the freeway. In Kingsland, several large trees were blown down, including one that significantly damaged a house. In Goodrich, a house carport was destroyed with a hole through its wall. Several roads east of Mena were closed due to flooding. A portion of County Road 106 southwest of Ravenden was washed out due to flooding, and flash flooding in Sherwood left an intersection impassable.
In Tennessee, a flash flood warning was issued in Memphis and tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were issued in the western part of the state late on August 27. The next day, more warnings issued, including one tornado warning for areas just north of Nashville, which had been hit by a high-end EF3 tornado just under six months earlier. Two EF0 tornadoes were confirmed in the state.
Following the passage of Laura, Haiti's Directorate General of Civil Protection (DGCP) began damage assessments. The agency quickly distributed food kits to affected residents in the Ouest, Nippes, Sud-Est, and Sud departments. Water treatment products were sent to Anse-à-Pitres and Belle-Anse by the National Directorate for Drinking Water and Sanitation. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) deployed medical teams across the country to assist the Haitian National Red Cross Society, though transport of victims was hampered by limited access to ambulances. Eleven schools were converted to shelters; however, many evacuees opted to stay with neighbors or relatives due to fears of COVID-19.
The governors of both Texas and Louisiana surveyed storm damage in the hardest hit parts of their respective states after the storm had passed. Roads in both Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes in Louisiana were impassable, cutting off road access to both Cameron and Creole. About 200,000 people were left without drinking water after Laura made 80 water systems inoperable. Additionally, some areas saw complete destruction in their power grids, and over a million people lost power. Some areas were expected to be without power for weeks or even months. Multiple homes also were uninhabitable due to air conditioning units being destroyed. Recovery efforts were hampered by additional rainfall in the days after Laura had passed.
Post-storm assessments indicated extensive damage and losses to Louisiana's timber industry with some small private forest landowners reporting complete loss of their timber acreage, an outcome which they had not experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, 15 years earlier. Extensive damage was also reported to Louisiana's industrial facilities with one-third showing some type of damage and nine out of the 138 facilities showing critical damage, causing environmental concerns. Some of the most critically damaged facilities were the BioLab facility in Lake Charles and the Equistar Chemical facility in Westlake, and the Chemical Waste Management facility and the Lotte Chemical plant in Lake Charles.
Many of the repairs in Louisiana were undone six weeks later by Hurricane Delta, which made landfall just 12 miles (19 km) east of where Hurricane Laura did, with many areas in and around hard-hit Lake Charles being damaged again.
Due to the damage and loss of life in Louisiana and southeast Texas, the name Laura was retired from the Atlantic rotating naming lists by the World Meteorological Organization on March 17, 2021, at the joint 42nd and 43rd sessions of the RA IV hurricane committee, and will never be used again for an Atlantic hurricane. It will be replaced with Leah for the 2026 season.
^Highest Wind Reports – Past 24 Hours (Report). Iowa Environmental Mesonet. National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Miami, Florida. August 25, 2020. Archived from the original on September 5, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
^Preliminary Local Storm Report (Report). Iowa Environmental Mesonet. National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Key West, Florida. August 24, 2020. Archived from the original on September 5, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
^Preliminary Local Storm Report (Report). Iowa Environmental Mesonet. National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Key West, Florida. August 24, 2020. Archived from the original on September 5, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2020.