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Ida now a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds

Packing winds in excess of 100 mph, Hurricane Ida strengthened to a Category 2 storm on Sunday and plowed its way toward the Gulf Coast.

As late as noon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported Ida's winds were near 70 mph. By Sunday night, they were 105 mph.

A hurricane warning extended along more than 200 miles of coastline from Pascagoula, Miss., east to Indian Pass, Fla., meaning that hurricane conditions are possible within 24 hours.

Tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches are in effect across other areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, including New Orleans.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predict Ida will reach the northern Gulf Coast by Tuesday, making it the first Atlantic hurricane to target the United States this year.

Ida's effects are already being felt in the Tampa Bay area.

A high pressure system to the east of the state and a low pressure system to the southwest produced strong wind gusts this weekend, said Brian McClure, a meteorologist with Bay News 9.

The Coast Guard rescued a Hudson man and his dog after the man reported he was unable to return to port on his 42-foot fishing vessel due to weather conditions 50 miles west of Clearwater, said Petty Officer Robert Simpson.

Gregory Lansier, 46, was taken to the Clearwater Coast Guard Air Station with no medical concerns, he said.

Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, said Ida's landfall itself will have no impact on the bay area. But it is going to interact and probably merge with a low pressure system that will move across the Southeast between late today and Tuesday.

"Then the problem we may have is that the remnants of Ida will provide additional moisture for increasing thunderstorm activity and could increase the potential for isolated tornadoes," Reynes said.

That rain will more than likely come on Tuesday, McClure said. "That's when whatever is left of Ida will pass by to our north."

Along the gulf, officials issued warnings of their own.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was on high alert.

In Florida, people in Bay County and Panama City were being advised to secure boats and prepare for storm surges that could reach 2 to 3 feet. Escambia County declared a local state of emergency late Sunday.

Officials canceled public schools for today and Tuesday and said they would begin opening emergency shelters at 10 a.m. today.

"You really don't know until it gets close how you're going to be affected by it," said Brad Monroe, Bay County's deputy chief of emergency services.

There have been nine named storms this season. Ida is the third hurricane to form.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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Ida now a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds 11/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 11:53am]
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