As the threat of Hurricane Laura intensifies, storm chasers like Emmy winner Jeff Piotrowski are naturally in their element, warning coastal residents to evacuate as this formidable Category 4 storm nears.  What’s particularly threatening about Laura is the storm surge, especially for the Gulf Coast communities including Port Arthur, Vinton, Cameron Parish and Lake Charles which are directly in the storm’s path.

“Get of town right now. You don’t want to be here in the aftermath. It’s gonna be a mess, a big mess,” Storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski said in his Laura update in Vinton, Texas. “This is bad one, a really bad one coming in.”

Piotrowski added that this storm surge would be utterly devastating to any community in its path.

“Close to a 20-foot storm surge.  So this is a catastrophic, life-threatening storm surge, ” Piotrowski said. “In NHC’s official words, this is an unsurvivable storm surge, if you’re on the coastline or even inland.”

The National Hurricane Center describes storm surge as the unprecedented rise of water generated by a storm, over the predicted tides.  The rise in high water can trigger extreme flooding in coastal areas.  Storm surge can often the greatest threat to life and property along the coast.  However, flash flooding is a different phenomenon than storm surge, as NOAA describes it being caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in short period of time, generally less than six hours.

“In my 45 years of storm chasing and hurricane chasing, this is the most dangerous hurricane in terms of storm surge,” Piotrowski said. “This whole parish–Cameron Parish. This is the one of the most dangerous counties right now in the U.S. in terms of getting trapped and drowning. I’m just gonna tell it like it is. If you’re anywhere in this area on these roads, you’ve got to get out. You’ve got to get completely out of those counties.”

Storm surge from Laura could reach as far as 30 miles inland, according to The National Weather Service.

“Sabine River is just east of town here.  I-10 is going to go under water 3 to 5 feet. 100 percent. I-10 will be blocked when the storm surge comes in. You will not be able to escape this town.” Piotrowski added.

Piotrowski reiterated that if you live in these threatened areas, you must take action now.

“My message is for the Gulf Coast all the way to I-10, when this storm starts at 5, 7, 8, 9—the chances of you getting out of town is about 0 after about sundown tonight,” Piotrowski said.  “When these winds start picking up, and they will come up enormously after dark, and the trees and power lines coming down and the lines start flooding the road, you’re stuck, you’re trapped.”

alison.medley@chron.com

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