High winds and heavy rains buffeted coastal Louisiana and Mississippi on Friday night as an unpredictable tropical weather system churned through the Gulf of Mexico, forcing cancellation of Juneteenth celebrations in Mississippi and Alabama and threatening Father’s Day tourism.
The system, moving north toward Louisiana through the Gulf of Mexico carried tropical storm-force sustained winds of 45 mph.
But forecasters said it couldn’t be yet classified as a tropical storm because it lacked a single, well-defined center.
If it eventually forms in to a fully-fledged storm when it makes landfall, it will be called Tropical Storm Claudette. It is expected to do so overnight into Saturday morning.
The Gulf Coast is beginning to feel the effects of the storm, which is threatening flooding rains, high winds and even isolated tornadoes.
Heavy rain and tropic storm-force winds could be felt from the Florida Panhandle to Morgan City, Louisiana, with seven million under rain and wind warnings.
‘There is still a high chance the system will become a tropical or subtropical storm through Saturday morning while the center is over or near water.’ the National Hurricane Center said.
As of late Friday night, the system was about 60 miles south of Morgan City and moving north around 13mph.
Storm clusters were dumping rain up to 4 inches an hour along parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, said Benjamin Schott, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana.
Radar showed more heavy rain moving ashore over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Friday, June 18, 2021, at 11 a.m. EDT, and provided by NOAA, shows a tropical weather system in the Gulf of Mexico
The potential tropical cyclone is expected to bring several inches of rainfall to the Gulf Coast
The system is still a potential tropical storm, but landfall could be coming at almost any time
CNN reports that maximum sustained winds hit 35 to 45mph – tropical storm strength – as the system moved north.
If wind speeds drop below 39mph, the system could become a tropical depression instead of Tropical Storm Claudette.
Grand Isle, Louisiana hit sustained wind speeds of 40mph and an oil rig southeast of the coast saw 44mph sustained winds and a gust of 58mph.
In Louisiana, which could see as much as 20 inches of rain over the next three days, Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a state of emergency cautioning residents ‘to stay weather aware as these storms approach the coast.’
Currently, the NHC has designated the system a ‘Potential Tropical Cyclone,’ indicating possible winds of at least 40mph over Father’s Day weekend.
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Clouds from Tropical Storm Claudette form on Highway 90 Beaches in Pass Christian, Miss.
Residents in low-lying areas of Hancock County move their vehicles, lawn mowers, ATVs and boats to higher ground in Waveland, Miss., as a tropical system approaches
More than 6 million along US Gulf Coast from Intercoastal City, Louisiana to the Florida-Alabama border, are under a tropical storm warning, with ‘Tropical Storm Claudette’ landfall expected Friday night
‘A tropical or subtropical depression is likely to form by late tonight or on Friday,’ the NHC cautioned. ‘Regardless of development, a high risk of rip currents is expected by Friday, with the potential for very heavy rain, a few brief tornadoes, high surf and minor coastal flooding this weekend.’
Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin along the northern Gulf Coast later Friday, according to the Weather Channel, with over 7 million people under tropical storm warnings from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Florida-Alabama border, including New Orleans and Mobile.
The system could bring 8-to-10 inches of rain to the central part of the Gulf Coast, with a 2-to-3 foot storm surge possible along the coast. The possibility of a foot of rain along the coast exists.
Because of the shape of the system, the heaviest rain and wind will be felt east of the center where the system hits, which could spell trouble for Alabama, Georgia and eastern Louisiana.
The National Hurricane Center predicts that, in addition to rainfall, there will be ‘flash, urban and small stream flooding’ throughout the weekend in the central Gulf Coast into southern Appalachia and parts of the Southeast.
They also expect tropical force winds to push inland on Saturday.
On Thursday, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency due to the threats associated with Potential Tropical Cyclone 3.
A tropical or subtropical storm is likely to form in the western Gulf of Mexico later Friday. This system threatens heavy rain and flooding to the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend
‘According to the National Weather Service, rainfall will be the biggest threat,’ Edwards said. ‘In addition to heavy rains, there is also a threat of coastal flooding, tropical storm force winds and isolated tornadoes.’
The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has also activated its Crisis Action Team.
In May, at least four deaths were reported after torrential rains deluged parts of the state.
The 2020 hurricane season was the worst on record, NBC News reported, with 30 named storms, 11 of which made landfall in the continental US.
Southwest Louisiana was hit with back-to-back hurricanes: Hurricane Laura, which slammed the region in late August 2020, and Hurricane Delta, which swiftly increased to a Category 4 after making landfall in early October.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an above average number of hurricanes for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially began June 1.
The NOAA says the season is actually starting earlier and will include longer, stronger storms.
The agency updated its Climate Prediction Center to indicate an uptick in named storms and hurricanes.
While the increase may be attributable to warming oceans caused by climate change, researchers say it could also be due to better tracking thanks to improved technology and hurricane reconnaissance.
The increase in Atlantic hurricane activity could also be caused by a presence of a positive Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, a cyclical shift in sea temperatures that’s currently in a warmer-than-usual stage, NOAA indicated last month.
NOAA’s initial outlook for the upcoming 2021 hurricane season predicts ‘above normal’ hurricane activity for a record sixth year in a row, with a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms.
Of those, more than half will likely become hurricanes, the agency said, and as many as five could strengthen into at least a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with winds in excess of 111mph.
Typically in a Category 3 hurricane, well-built homes lose their roofs and electricity and water is out for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
As much as meteorologists are considering whether the number of hurricanes is increasing, climate-change experts are more worried about their growing intensity: A 2019 report from Yale Climate Connections reported hurricanes are stronger and more destructive than a half-century ago.
Hurricanes that make landfall now are taking longer to weaken—an average of 33 hours— compared to just 17 hours a half-century ago.
Researchers believe that’s due to rising sea temperatures caused by global warming.
Storms forming over warmer oceans are carrying moisture as they approach land, which gives them enough fuel to keep their strength after they come ashore.
As temperatures continue to rise, experts say, hurricanes will have the strength to move further and further inland before dissipating.