Tropical Storm Lee forms in the Gulf of Mexico, heads for Louisiana

September 3rd, 2011 - 2:26 am ICT by BNO News  

MIAMI (BNO NEWS) — Tropical Storm Lee formed south of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico on early Friday afternoon, forecasters said, prompting tropical storm warnings and a state of emergency for several states.

Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) have been following the weather system since Tuesday afternoon when it emerged as a tropical wave over the northwestern Caribbean Sea in the company of disorganized cloudiness and showers. It became better organized throughout the week and was upgraded to a tropical depression on late Thursday evening.

As of 1 p.m. CDT (1800 GMT), the center of Lee was located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Cameron, a census-designated place in Louisiana. It is drifting toward the northwest at a speed near two miles (four kilometers) per hour, and a slow and erratic motion toward the northwest or north is expected to continue through Saturday.

Maximum sustained winds of Lee have increased to near 40 miles (65 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts. “Gradual strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours,” NHC senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said. “Wind gusts to near 60 miles (96 kilometers) per hour are being reported on oil rigs north and east of the center at elevations of a few hundred feet above the ocean surface.”

With tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the center, mainly to the northeast through southeast, stormy conditions were already affecting parts of the Gulf coast on early Friday afternoon. Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate throughout the weekend.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from Pascagoula, Mississippi westward to Sabine Pass, Texas. “Tropical storm conditions are expected to first reach the coast within the warning area by later afternoon or evening, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous,” Stewart said.

The NHC expects Lee to produce total rain accumulations of 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) over southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and southern Alabama through Sunday, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches (50 centimeters). “These rains are expected to cause extensive flooding, especially in urban areas,” Stewart warned.

In addition to heavy winds and heavy rainfall, a storm surge is expected to raise water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet (61 to 122 centimeters) above ground level along the northern Gulf coast in areas of onshore flow.

As a result of the approaching storm, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour on Friday declared a state of emergency in several counties expected to be impacted by the system. “Do not underestimate the impact of this system of tropical weather,” Gov. Barbour said. “While it is not a hurricane, this weather system is expected to cause tremendous flooding. Make preparations now to protect your family and your property.”

On Thursday evening, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also declared a state of emergency for several counties. “This storm is not expected to become a hurricane at this point, but we are reminded yet again to always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said on Friday.

Lee is the twelfth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, following Hurricane Katia which formed in the far eastern Atlantic earlier this week and is expected to become a major hurricane in a few days.

According to figures released last month, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is expecting an above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. The outlook calls for 14 to 19 named storms, with seven to ten becoming hurricanes and three to five expected to become a major hurricane (category 3 or higher).

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and two becoming major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity in September.

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