Forecasters with the U.S. National Hurricane Center say Tropical Storm Ida is gaining strength in the Caribbean near the Cayman Islands and is still expected to strengthen into a hurricane targeting the U.S. south central coast by early next week.In its latest report, the hurricane center said the center of Ida was about 75 kilometers north-northwest of Grand Cayman Island, and is moving toward the northwest at about 24 kilometers per hour. They say this general movement should continue over the next few days. Its current maximum sustained winds are at about 75 kilometers per hour.The current forecast track has Ida moving away from the Cayman Islands, over or near western Cuba later Friday, and over the southeastern and central Gulf of Mexico by late Friday and Saturday. The system is forecast to approach the U.S. Gulf Coast as early as Sunday. Ida is forecast to become a hurricane over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and to be at or near major hurricane strength when it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast.Forecasters fear dramatic strengthening as the storm moves over the Gulf of Mexico. On her Twitter account Thursday, Mississippi State University atmospheric scientist Kim Wood said the storm track will take it over the warmest waters in the Gulf. She said the water in the area is about 30 degrees Celsius to a depth of 40 meters, adding, “I don’t have words for that,” Such extremely warm waters favor rapid strengthening after Ida enters the Gulf.  If the storm were to come ashore Sunday it would do so on the anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina came ashore in Louisiana, near New Orleans, in 2005, bringing widespread destruction and flooding.  In 2020, Louisiana was hit by three major hurricanes.Forecasters say there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast.

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