Barry lumbered ashore on the central Louisiana coast Saturday afternoon, lashing the area with damaging wind gusts and driving a surge of ocean water several feet above normal tides. It was briefly at hurricane strength before weakening to a tropical storm.
Barry's saga is just beginning. It now threatens eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi with a long-duration deluge that could trigger "life-threatening flooding," according to the National Hurricane Center.
Carrying vast amounts of Gulf of Mexico moisture inland, the storm could dump in excess of 15 inches of rain in parts of eastern Louisiana and southwest Mississippi. This could raise water levels on several rivers in southeast Louisiana to record heights, including in Baton Rouge.
"Rain increasing in intensity across much of Louisiana as night falls. #Barry is still very much a dangerous storm with impacts only increasing through Sunday," tweeted the National Weather Service.
Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, described the amount of moisture heading into Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico as "off the charts."
Barry could take the better part of the weekend to plow through Louisiana, from south to north, unloading wave after wave of flooding rain in some areas.
Maximum rainfall amounts forecast in computer models have decreased somewhat, but the potential for dangerous flooding remains.
Spending just three hours as 2019′s first Atlantic hurricane, Barry made landfall near Intracoastal City, Louisiana, just before 2 p.m., before promptly weakening to a tropical storm.
The storm, centered 35 miles southwest of Alexandria, Louisiana, as of 11:10 p.m. Eastern, has peak winds of 50 mph and is heading to the north-northwest at 8 mph. As the winds have decreased, the hurricane warnings along much of the central and eastern Louisiana coast have been changed to tropical storm warnings.
Rain, heavy at times, is oozing into southeast Louisiana off the Gulf of Mexico and has increased in coverage and intensity since this afternoon, especially right along the coast.
Heavy storms were pointed at New Orleans for a time this evening, prompting a flash flood warning. However, the most intense rain passed just east of the city and the rain has eased. Even so, more areas of rain - some heavy - could move through the city overnight.
On Saturday afternoon, some of the heaviest rain was focused in coastal Alabama and Mississippi, where flash flood warnings were issued, but that rain has diminished. The zone from Mobile, Alabama, to Biloxi, Mississippi, saw 3 to 6 inches of rain.
As Barry approached the coast, peak gusts topped 60 mph in coastal Louisiana, while New Orleans clocked a gust of 49 mph. In Morgan City, where gusts have reached at least 55 mph, some structural damage was reported to buildings, along with downed trees and power lines.
More than 130,000 customers had lost power in Louisiana as of the late afternoon but that number dropped to 120,000 in the evening, according to poweroutage.us.
The storm surge along Louisiana's southern and central coast has pushed water 3 to 6 feet above normally dry land, with isolated reports over 7 feet.
A levee was topped by the surge in Terrebonne Parish on Saturday afternoon, prompting a mandatory evacuation in parts of the area.
Another levee was topped Saturday morning in Plaquemines Parish, which is in the southeastern-most section of Louisiana, causing some flooding:
A storm surge of 5 feet was reported along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans, and a surge up to 4 feet was reported in coastal Mississippi.
Fears that the surge up the Mississippi River might test New Orleans's levees eased Friday evening. The National Weather Service announced that the river had crested at 17 feet, several feet below the height at which the levees would have been topped.
While rainfall hasn't been particularly heavy in Louisiana so far, the deep plume of moisture over the Gulf of Mexico lags behind the storm center and is still drifting inland.
"Heavier rain rates are expected to develop into southern Louisiana . . . into tonight, spreading north on Sunday," the National Weather Service tweeted.
Flooding rain remains a concern in New Orleans, where several inches are possible, but the heaviest rain and most severe flooding threat is likely to set up just to the west of New Orleans closer to Baton Rouge.
The Weather Service placed a large area of southeast Louisiana in its high-risk zone for flash flooding through Sunday morning. The Hurricane Center's Graham stressed that 83% of fatalities from tropical weather systems over the past three years have resulted from inland rain and flooding.
While winds are gradually decreasing, tropical-storm-force winds are possible along portions of the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle through Saturday night. Additional power outages are likely.
Tornadoes are also possible within the storm's rain bands as they move inland off the gulf, mainly east and northeast of the center in eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi and Alabama.
The rainfall forecast is ominous for southeastern and south-central Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi, where 6 to 10 inches of rain are likely with localized totals over 15 inches. "This rainfall is expected to lead to dangerous, life- threatening flooding," the Hurricane Center said.
Heavy rain bands may pass over some of the same areas repeatedly, with rates as high as 3 to 4 inches per hour.
Such deluges are likely to cause many already swollen rivers to overflow. "We could be looking at widespread major flooding across several river basins," the Weather Service in New Orleans tweeted.
In Baton Rouge, there are concerns that the rain could raise levels along the Comite River higher than during the devastating 2016 flood.
The heaviest rain will progress from south to north through southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi into Saturday night, moving into northern Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas and west-central and northern Mississippi on Sunday. By Monday, heavy rain is likely in western Tennessee and central and northern Arkansas.
"[E]arly next week, Barry is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of four to eight inches across western portions of the Tennessee Valley," the Hurricane Center said.
During the middle of next week, between Tuesday and Thursday, Barry's remnant rains are likely to spread through the Tennessee and Ohio valleys and potentially to the Mid-Atlantic.
Storm surge had likely peaked in many areas by late Saturday afternoon, but the Hurricane Center cautioned that "life-threatening storm surge inundation continues along the coast of southern and southeastern Louisiana, portions of Lake Pontchartrain, and portions of coastal Mississippi where a Storm Surge Warning remains in effect."
Surge levels should gradually decrease Saturday night.
Barry, the first hurricane of the 2019 season, reached such strength about a month ahead of the average Aug. 10 date of the first hurricane.
"#Barry will be the first July U.S. #hurricane landfall in 5 years (Arthur '14) and the 8th hurricane to landfall in the continental U.S. since 2016," Weather.com's Jonathan Erdman tweeted.
Phil Klotzbach, a tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University, tweeted: "It's the first hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana since Nate in 2017 and the first in July since Cindy in 2005."
He added: "#Barry is the 4th # hurricane on record (since 1851) to make landfall in July in Louisiana. The other three are: Bob (1979), Danny (1997) and Cindy (2005)."