La. officials prepare for weekend rains

Officials are still watching an area of low pressure in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, but indications as of Friday afternoon were the system might not pose much of a threat to Louisiana.

According to the National Weather Service Slidell, the system could result in up to 3 inches of rain with some locally higher amounts along the southeast Louisiana coast through Monday.

This rain “appears to be the most significant threat with this system regardless of track or development,” according to the National Weather Service’s Friday afternoon update.

Located about 120 miles north-northwest of Campeche, Mexico, on Friday afternoon, if the system moves to the west or west-northwest in the next few days, the environmental conditions are good for some strengthening into a tropical depression or tropical storm, forecasters said.

If the system moves north instead, it will go through an area of higher wind shear, which can stop or slow down the development of a storm.

“If it tracks north, which would bring it toward Louisiana, the conditions are more hostile for it to become a storm,” said Barry Keim, Louisiana’s state climatologist. If it does arrive in Louisiana, he said, it could be just a cluster of thunderstorms by the time it gets here.

“It’s really a rain threat, but not really a wind or surge threat,” he said.

There could be strong thunderstorms with some waterspout formation possible along the coast through Monday, according to the National Weather Service Slidell. It’s possible some of these waterspouts could move onshore. Also along the coast, tide levels of 1 to 2 feet above normal are expected Saturday night along the Mississippi coast and the eastern-facing shores of southeast Louisiana.

Keim said it’s likely the system, whatever it becomes, will be on land somewhere by Sunday.

As of Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane System gave the system a 50 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm. A tropical depression has winds converging into a center from all sides but has winds less than 38 mph. A tropical storm has wind speeds of 38 mph or higher.

Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said the biggest threat will be rainfall and some storm surge.

He said state, local and federal officials are continuing to monitor the situation. More than a million sandbags have been pre-set at staging areas across the state, and parish officials have been told to contact the GOHSEP if they need sandbags.

Out in the Atlantic Ocean, what had become Tropical Storm Erin on Thursday was downgraded Friday to a tropical depression.

The system weakened after moving over cooler sea surface temperatures. Although it’s expected to head over warmer waters soon, the wind shear is expected to increase, thus hampering any increases in strength, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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