With last year’s Hurricane Isaac still fresh in people’s minds, there is a distinct lack of “just a category one storm” with the still-developing Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf of Mexico today.
Last year’s slow-moving Isaac caused widespread damage and flooding in southeast Louisiana. And although Tropical Storm Karen is a different storm, it’s not being taken lightly.
The forecasted track for Tropical Storm Karen shifted slightly to the west in the 7 p.m. National Hurricane Center update, meaning the storm looks like it could make Louisiana landfall at the mouth of the Mississippi River before heading northeast toward Alabama.
As Tropical Storm Karen continues to gather strength, the National Hurricane Center expects it could be at, or near, hurricane strength by Friday.
Although it’s expected that wind shear and other factors could reduce the strength back to tropical storm by landfall, meteorologists caution forecasting the strength of a storm isn’t nearly as reliable as tract forecasts.
Very warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are feeding the storm, but there is enough wind shear to keep the storm development in check, said Barry Keim, state climatologist.
“If the shear wasn’t there, this would probably be a fairly scary storm,” Keim said.
At 7 p.m., the storm was about 360 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River moving at 12 mph in a north-northwesterly direction, but a turn toward the north and a slowing down of the storm are expected in the next two days, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Although there is fairly good agreement among computer models that the storm will make a turn to the northeast before hitting Louisiana, much depends on an approaching cold front that is expected to push the storm farther east.
The storm still bears watching because by the time it’s expected to be at hurricane strength it will only be about 100 miles south of Louisiana’s coast, Keim said.
If the cold front slows down, that would mean the turn in the storm would come later than is expected and the storm would continue north to Louisiana for a longer period of time.
“And we’re banking on it making that turn,” Keim said.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Christopher Bannan said the turn to the northeast is going to happen, “The question is when.”
In anticipation of potential storm impacts Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon.
“Tropical Storm Karen continues to move north through the Gulf and tropical storm winds will be felt in Plaquemines Parish beginning tomorrow night,” Jindal said. “We are encouraging everyone to get a game plan now and stay alert by monitoring local weather conditions in their area.”
“As with every storm, we always hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Jindal said.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser also declared a state of emergency for the parish and asked residents to keep monitoring the news in case the parish needs to call for voluntary evacuations. All Plaquemines Parish schools will be open Friday.
Plaquemines Parish experienced flooding on the east and west bank of the river during Hurricane Isaac, but officials say they have confidence that Tropical Storm Karen doesn’t present the same problems.
“The levees in both areas have been improved since last year and are expected to withstand the anticipated storm surge,” Guy Laigast, Plaquemines Parish director of Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said in an emailed statement.
As of Thursday afternoon, a hurricane watch is in effect from Grand Isle to west of Destin, Fla., while a tropical storm watch is in effect for west of Grand Isle to east of Morgan City, New Orleans, Lake Maurepas, Lake Pontchartrain and Destin to Indian Pass, Fla. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours, a tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions could occur within 36 hours and a tropical storm watch means impacts could occur within 48 hours.
Although East Baton Rouge Parish isn’t included in any of the tropical storm watches, parish officials asked residents to continue paying attention to the storm’s developments during the next couple days.
“Remember to have your family disaster kits updated with the items you need including extra medicine, water, flashlights and batteries to last the first four days. Also, be sure to top off all fuel supplies,” Mayor-President Kip Holden said in a news release. He also urged residents to check on elderly neighbors.
Tropical winds could be hitting Plaquemines Parish late Friday afternoon or early evening and late Friday night or early Saturday morning for the rest of the coast.
Winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour could be possible in coastal areas within the hurricane watch. Winds in metro New Orleans, the north shore and river parishes will be 25 to 35 miles per hour with stronger gusts.
The storm also will cause flooding in some coastal areas and there are areas east of the Mississippi River, including Lake Borgne, that could see three to five feet of additional water with possibly six feet in some areas. Water levels in Lake Pontchartrain could go up two to four feet and coastal areas west of the Mississippi River could see two to four feet of additional water, according to the National Weather Service.
Rainfall with the storm will range from four to eight inches through Sunday although there are some areas that have the possibility of getting 12 inches of rain.