By Carl Lisciandrello
The low-pressure system that dipped into the Gulf of Mexico from Georgia strengthened into Tropical Storm Barry on Thursday morning and continues to make its way west, on a projected path toward Louisiana as a potential Category 1 hurricane.
The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico should encourage the system to intensify slowly at first, but a little more rapidly on Friday, when Barry could become a Category 1 hurricane on a track toward Louisiana.
As of Thursday at 2 p.m., forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the system had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts and was located about 90 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving west at 5 mph.
The storm is expected to turn to the west-northwest Thursday night and to the northwest on Friday. It is forecast to be near the Louisiana coast by Friday night or Saturday.
The effects for Florida should be limited to locally heavy rain, mainly west of the Apalachicola River, an increasing risk of rip currents, and coastal flooding.
A hurricane watch remains in effect for the mouth of the Mississippi River to Cameron, Louisiana, and areas along the Gulf Coast can expect dangerous storm surge and rising waters along the coast, forecasters said. A tropical storm warning is also in effect for the Louisiana coast from the mouth of the Pearl River to Morgan City.
Areas near New Orleans have already experienced 6-9 inches of rain and significant flooding, and the system could produce an additional 10-15 inches of rain – and possibly up to 20 inches -- along the central Gulf Coast into early next week.
The National Weather Service has issued a Coastal Flood Watch from Destin to Pensacola, where up to 3 feet of inundation is possible from Thursday night through Sunday. The most likely times of inundation, the weather service says, is near the time of high tides during the mid-morning hours of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Locally, the storm’s counterclockwise circulation is producing increased moisture and breezy conditions from the south across the Tampa Bay area, forecasters said. This will result in continued chances of scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms with possibly heavy downpours.
Those stiff breezes, and swells generated by the storm as it continues to intensify, will bring a high risk of powerful rip currents along the coast, forecasters said.
A high rip current risk has been issued from Pinellas County southward to Bonita Springs, including St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Fort Myers. Southerly winds around the organizing tropical storm will make the seas dangerous in these areas through Friday evening.
Rain chances will decrease starting Saturday as the storm is expected to approach Louisiana, with clearing skies and temperatures returning to the low 90s, forecasters said.
The rest of Florida will see little change from the typical, mainly afternoon thunderstorms inland, with a few morning thunderstorms, especially near the Gulf coast on Thursday and Friday. As a ridge of high pressure builds over the state from the Bahamas this weekend, the number of afternoon thunderstorms should decrease, particularly over the Peninsula and Big Bend areas.
Information from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network was used in this report.