Tropical warnings for Gulf, heavy rain expected

September 1, 2011 - 8:30 PM
Katia

This satellite image provided by NOAA and taken Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011, shows Tropical Storm Katia. Hurricane Katia is continuing its trek across the Atlantic Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, with little change in strength. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says some strengthening is expected and Katia could become a major hurricane by the weekend.(AP Photo/NOAA)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Areas along the Gulf coast could get up to 20 inches of rain from a system that could blow into tropical storm strength, leading Louisiana's governor to declare a state of emergency Thursday because of the threat of serious flash flooding.

Tropical storm warnings are out for the Gulf coast from Mississippi to Texas. The National Hurricane Center said the system that is now a depression in the Gulf of Mexico will dump 10 to 15 inches of rain over southern areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama through Sunday and as much as 20 inches in some spots.

As for Katia (KAH'-tee-yah) in the Atlantic, it weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm, though forecasters say it will again grow stronger. It was about 930 miles (1497 kilometers) east of the Leeward Islands and moving west near 18 mph (30 kph) with maximum sustained winds Thursday evening near 70 mph (113 kph), a 5 mph decrease. It could become a major hurricane this weekend.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it's too early to tell if Katia will hit the U.S. It is expected to pass north of the Caribbean.

In the Gulf, the declaration by Gov. Bobby Jindal allows him to activate the National Guard to help and lets the state homeland security office to take whatever action is necessary. In the state's low-lying Lafourche Parish, president Charlotte Randolph also declared a state of emergency, saying coastal areas there might get up to 18 inches of rain through Monday.

The depression has sustained winds of 35 mph and was moving toward the northwest at about 6 mph. On this track, the center of the depression should approach the Louisiana coast on Saturday. Forecasters say it could strengthen into a tropical storm.

Tropical storm warnings are out from Pascagoula, Miss., to the Texas state line.

It was still unclear where the system would head next, but it could bring much-needed relief to drought-plagued Texas.

The Gulf system already has forced two major petroleum producers to remove crews from a handful of production platforms. Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil said they would also cut off a small amount of production. Both moves affect only a fraction of production.

In yet another system, the hurricane center said a slow-moving low pressure system about 360 miles (579 kilometers) north of Bermuda stood a 50 percent chance in the next two days of becoming a tropical cyclone, the first step toward a tropical storm.