The National Hurricane Center just upgraded tropical storm Isaac to a category one hurricane as 75 mph winds close in on the gulf coast. The storm is currently 75 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River and 160 miles from New Orleans, and it’s expected to make landfall by early Wednesday morning. One of few significant storms to approach the US Gulf Coast since 2008, Issac has placed a large area of the Northern Gulf Coast – from Morgan City in Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama – under a hurricane warning. Many residents in the area are bolstering up homes and businesses, ready to wait out the storm that is predicted to bring 20″ of rain and gusts of wind up to 100 mph in some areas.

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Tropical Storm Isaac has been described by one increasingly frazzled veteran Gulf Coast weatherman as “frustrating,” with a trajectory and intensity that appears to have been increasingly hard to predict since the system developed last week. The storm stuck Haiti, where it is reported to have claimed 24 lives and destroyed over 300 homes in the country which is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

There was then panic earlier this week as Republicans feared it might derail their National Convention. But after skirting Florida, Isaac continued through the Gulf without gaining a great deal of strength. Earlier this week forecasters expected the storm would make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast as a category 2 hurricane, though that has now been downgraded to a “strong” category 1. Alongside rainfall and high winds, the predicted location of Isaac’s landfall could produce a storm surge of up to twelve feet.

Some low-lying parishes in Louisiana—outside of the federal levee protection system—have issued mandatory evacuations, while residents of New Orleans have largely heeded mayor Mitch Landrieu’s advice to hunker down and shelter in place. Landrieu described high anxiety in the area, particularly as the storm is set to make landfall seven years to-the-day since hurricane Katrina. But that anxiety has not prompted large-scale voluntary evacuations of the city, with many remaining pragmatic about the relatively small scale and strength of the storm compared to that which devastated the region in 2005.

Google has created a “crisis map,” which provides up-to-the-minute information on the storm’s path, weather watches and warnings as well as locations of active emergency shelters (of which there are none in New Orleans). Louisiana alone has deployed 4,000 National Guard members ahead of the storm, and has stockpiled “more than a million packaged meals, 1.4 million bottles of water and 17,000 tarps.”

A full last-minute checklist of essentials for those waiting out the storm can be found here.

Lead image (cc) Flickr user cayobo