As Hurricane Laura Heads for Louisiana 15 Years After Katrina, Images Show What They Look Like From Space

Images from space captured the girth of Hurricane Laura as it moved through the Gulf Coast this week, headed for the border of Louisiana and Texas. The National Weather Service warned that the storm, which is expected to become a category 4 by the time it makes landfall, could cause "catastrophic damage" just days before the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Laura, the 12th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to hit Louisiana early Monday morning as a major hurricane. In the last 24 hours, the storm's wind speeds intensified to 46 miles-per-hour with no signs of slowing down, while satellite images showed it's now a "formidable hurricane," according to the NHC.

When NASA's Terra satellite and NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite passed over the storm early Tuesday morning, it was about to move into the Gulf of Mexico and showed the most powerful thunderstorms were around the storm's center. At the time, Laura was still a tropical storm, but the eye was "apparent," NASA said.

The storm is over 350 miles in diameter, according to NASA, and hurricane-force and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 45 miles and 175 miles respectively from the center. By Thursday morning, the NHC expected "widespread damaging wind gusts" to spread well inland to portions of eastern Texas and Western Louisiana.

Chris Cassidy, a NASA astronaut living on the International Space Station, posted photos on Twitter of the storm from his unique vantage point. The images showed the eye of the swirling system as it moved north.

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A photo from NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy shows Hurricane Laura as it approaches the Gulf of Mexico. Chris Cassidy

Fifteen years ago, the same area was rocked by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 3 on August 29. An image captured by NASA on August 28 showed the storm with a clearly defined eye covering much of the Gulf of Mexico.

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An image from space shows Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico on August 28, 2005. MODIS Rapid Response Team at Goddard Space Flight Center

Rain from Katrina overwhelmed the levee system and flooded New Orleans and tore part of the roof off the Superdome, where thousands of evacuees were living. More than 1,800 people in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi were killed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the timing of Laura most closely aligns with Katrina, Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards warned residents that it will be similar in strength to Hurricane Rita, a Category 5 storm that hit the Gulf Coast about a month after Katrina.

"Every storm is unique; I can tell you. We're only going to dodge the bullet so many times, and the current forecast for Laura has it focused intently on Louisiana," Edwards said during a Tuesday press conference. "Understand right now, the strength of this hurricane is going to be akin to Rita. Not to Marco or any of the other storms, and that's why we need to continue to prepare and continue to pray."

NASA's research found cloud tops with temperatures of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, as they were around Laura's center, indicate strong storms with the potential to generate heavy rainfall. Cloud tops circling the most powerful storms were already dropping large amounts of rain and the NHC warned residents in the area to prepare for the consequences of heavy rainfall. Storm surges in San Luis Pass, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, had the potential to produce "potentially catastrophic damage" and could impact areas up to 30 miles inland.

After making landfall, the NHC expects Laura to "weaken rapidly," and it's likely to become part of a frontal system, although there is a chance it could re-intensify into a tropical cyclone off the mid-Atlantic coast.