The tattered remnants of Tropical Storm Karen continued to crawl toward the Louisiana coast Sunday morning, battered by wind shear and starved by dry air that all but eliminated its already minimal bluster.
With Karen expected to limp onto land around midday as a tropical depression or minimal storm, evacuation orders in some coastal areas were lifted and warnings were rescinded even as precautionary measures were finalized in the New Orleans area.
But as they preached preparation and emphasized the unpredictability of storms, officials also cautioned that residents should not blow the storm out of proportion.
“I would ask everybody just to slow their roll for the next 24 to 36 hours. It’s gonna be OK,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during a Saturday morning news conference.
National Hurricane Center updates showed Karen struggling to move northward or even to remain an organized storm. By Sunday evening, officials were predicting the system — which hung onto its designation as a tropical storm due to a “very small area of tropical storm force winds,” according to an advisory — will be only a tropical depression by the time it makes it to southeast Louisiana about 1 p.m. Sunday.
The weakening storm system had maximum sustained winds of 30 mph early Sunday. It was about 165 miles west-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River before dawn. The National Weather Service said Karen was drifting to the northeast near 2 mph.
In its weakened state, Karen was expected to drop between 1 and 3 inches of rain in the New Orleans area and create storm surges of between 1 and 3 feet. That’s well below the level Jefferson Parish officials have cited as a cause for concern in areas outside the levee system, such as Grand Isle and Jean Lafitte.
Karen’s maximum wind speeds at landfall on Sunday are expected to be about 35 mph, with stronger gusts.
That would be just short of the speed needed to keep it officially labeled a tropical storm.
The system is expected to further weaken Sunday afternoon and evening and dissipate by Monday as it moves east.
As warm, sunny weather reigned in the New Orleans area Saturday, broken only briefly by fits of rain, emergency officials throughout the region gradually relaxed and rescinded orders issued a day or two earlier.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect Saturday night from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River, but the National Hurricane Center canceled all such advisories for areas farther west.
Grand Island, which issued a mandatory evacuation order on Friday, was allowing homeowners to return by late afternoon Saturday. A dusk-till-dawn curfew remained in place on the island, and the town’s police department still urged caution, though officials said there was no indication water would rise high enough to swamp La. 1, the only road back to the mainland.
Plaquemines Parish also lifted the mandatory evacuation order put in place Friday in parts of the parish, maintaining a nighttime curfew on the east bank for all those not returning to their home from an evacuation.
Port of New Orleans officials said they expected the Mississippi River, which was closed to maritime traffic Friday morning, could reopen as early as Sunday.
Still, preparations for a storm remained in effect through the day.
The Army Corps of Engineers readied the area’s flood protection system for the storm, shutting gates at the Seabrook Floodgate complex on the northern end of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, as well as at the Harvey Canal, Bayou Segnette and Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier, a nearly 2-mile wall stretching across Lake Borgne.
Public works and pump crews remained on standby in Jefferson Parish, New Orleans officials reported that all of the city’s pumps were operational, and St. Charles Parish reported that pumps were working and canals had been pumped down.
In St. Tammany Parish, officials prepped for the storm by pumping out detention ponds but said they did not believe the north shore would see significant effects from the storm. Emergency plans that called for blocking U.S. 11 at the parish levee to prevent flooding did not appear necessary as of Saturday evening, parish spokesman Ronald Simpson said.
With pleasant weather and few warnings from public officials, there was perhaps only one tiny reminder Saturday of storms past.
Entergy New Orleans utility crews worked to restore electricity throughout the day after power outages in Mid-City and on the West Bank left about 200 customers in the dark.
An outage affected about 69 Entergy customers in Algiers, according to the Entergy Storm Center website, which tracks outages across the region. Also on the West Bank, 85 homes and businesses near the Intracoastal Waterway went dark Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, power went out for 23 households and businesses in a Mid-City neighborhood, according to the Entergy website.
The public utility, which last year faced criticism for what some considered delays in restoring power to tens of thousands of southeastern Louisiana customers following Hurricane Isaac, had power back on in a few hours Saturday.
Danny Monteverde, Jaquetta White and Sara Pagones contributed to this report.