At an Aug. 24 press conference, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Laura is expected to make landfall sometime Thursday morning somewhere between Freeport, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. Tropical Storm Marco—a second storm that recently formed in the Gulf of Mexico along with Laura—is likely to only have mild effects on the Houston area, she said.
"Residents across Harris County should be making preparation for the landfall of a hurricane," Hidalgo said. "Our strategy should never be to hope for the best. We don’t have the luxury of time. The time to prepare is right now. We can’t wait for another forecast hoping it will improve."
Unlike Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, Laura is not expected to cause widespread flooding, Hidalgo said. Instead, residents should prepare for storm surges and high winds in certain areas, she said.
"This is not Harvey. This is not Imelda. This is not Allison," Hidalgo said. "Every storm is different, and we urge folks not to use any prior storm as a template for what could happen."
Residents should prepare by filling gas tanks and stocking up on supplies, a list of which can be found at www.readyharris.org, Hidalgo said. Outdoor items, such as patio furniture, should be removed or tied down.
Residents who live along the coast should be prepared for potential evacuation, Hidalgo said. Some areas outside of Harris County, including Port Arthur and Galveston, have already called for voluntary or mandatory evacuations.
In advance of the storm, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for 23 Texas counties Aug. 24, including Harris County, making federal emergency aid available to supplement state and local response efforts.
The county is working with the federal government, the city of Houston and other local governments in the region to prepare for the storm, Hidalgo said, including debris removal, recovery response and monitoring air and water pollution, which could worsen in the fallout of the storm. The Red Cross is prepared to open shelters in line with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, she said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who also spoke at the conference, said that even if Laura does come to the Houston area, the storm is not expected to stall. Based on projections as of Aug. 24, the storm is expected come through around midnight the morning of Aug. 27 and be out of the area between 8-10 a.m. that day.
Turner said all city departments are actively engaged in preparation, including teams that are helping homeless individuals transition into shelters and teams that are checking on seniors and disabled individuals. Medically fragile residents can call 211 for help with evacuation if needed, he said.
Turner also warned of higher traffic levels heading westbound starting Aug. 25 as residents in Port Arthur and Chambers County start evacuating the area.
"We encourage Houstonians, especially starting tomorrow night going into Wednesday, to be prepared to stay off the roads ... to allow them to get through," he said.
Residents can sign up to receive weather alerts on Tropical Storm Laura and other storms at the Harris County Office of Emergency Management website.