As of this afternoon, Gustav has once again reached Hurricane status, increasing to 75 mph as it continues to expand into an increasingly large storm. After passing over Jamaica early today and weakening slightly, it now heads for the Caymans, then turns northwest with one more small obstacle in its path - eastern Cuba. This portion of Cuba is fairly narrow and should not have a great effect on the storm. Forecasts point to the likelihood of a major hurricane (Cat III)as it heads across the Gulf of Mexico Sunday and Monday for an eventual landfall on Monday night or early Tuesday. On it's current track, landfall is expected along the Louisiana coastline, however this far out, the margin of error is still large enough that everyone from Houston to Pensacola should be prepared for at least tropical storm, if not stronger, conditions.
Tropical storm conditions will start to be felt as early as Monday morning along the coast ahead of the storm. Evacuation orders are already in place or take effect tomorrow for many locations, including the city of New Orleans, where today they commemorated the landfall of Hurricane Katrina 3 years ago to the day. We can only hope that Gustav does not inflict the magnitude of damage that occurred with Katrina and that emergency and government officials are more prepared than 3 years ago.
Below is the current forecast track from the Hurricane Center as well as a plot of most of the computer models' forecasts indicating the degree of error that still exists - the spread lies all the way from Houston to New Orleans. The big question mark seems to be the strength of a high pressure system due to be over the Ohio Valley early next week - a stronger high would tend to steer the hurricane further west (which some models are forecasting) while a weaker high will allow the storm to continue on a due northwest track closer to New Orleans, which others are forecasting will happen. Only time will tell.
Though this storm will get all the press for the next several days, strengthening T.S. Hanna in the Atlantic also bears watching as it too could affect the U.S. mainland later next week.