Gulf Coast National Parks Prepare for Possible Arrival of Hurricane Gustav

Projected track for Tropical Storm Gustav, which is likely to attain hurricane strength. NOAA photo.

At this writing, Tropical Storm Gustav is still in the Caribbean and not yet a hurricane. However, Gustav is expected to get a big energy boost when it moves over warm Gulf of Mexico waters (probably early Sunday) and will likely transition to hurricane strength before making landfall. The five-day forecast cone, a projection of the storm path that shows where landfall may occur, includes a big swath of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama. (As everyone is aware by now, Katrina-ravaged New Orleans is within the forecast cone and could conceivably end up in the bullseye.)

Three national parks located within the five-day forecast cone have been deemed to be at especially high risk. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, and Gulf Islands National Seashore have all made plans for closure and evacuation.

If conditions warrant, the three parks will begin closing Saturday and will stay closed until the storm threat is over. Park employees who live in low-lying areas will probably be evacuated.

A lower level of readiness has been deemed appropriate for other national parks located within the five-day forecast cone for possible landfall. Cane River National Heritage Area/Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Natchez Trace Parkway, Big Thicket National Preserve, Padre Island National Seashore, and Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Site are all in planning and monitoring mode, awaiting further assessments.

Meanwhile, national parks in Florida and on the eastern seaboard are keeping a wary eye on Tropical Storm Hanna, which could gain hurricane strength and make landfall somewhere in that region.