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Weather: Nate’s path still uncertain

Lazaro Aleman: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Tropical Storm Nate, as it has been officially named as of Thursday morning (previously it was simply designated as Tropical Depression 16), appeared to have altered its projected course slightly during the night, putting it in line to strike the U.S. mainland somewhere between Louisiana and the western Florida Panhandle.

Earlier models on Wednesday had put the storm’s projected path more to the east, with the entire Panhandle, and the Big Bend area specifically, well within its potential target area.

As if Harvey, Irma and Maria weren’t enough for a season, let alone a lifetime, now residents along the Gulf Coast must worry about another hurricane potentially slamming into the region.

As of press morning, Thursday, Oct. 5, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) put Nate, which formed early Wednesday morning, at latitude 13.2 north and longitude 83.3 west, or about 50 miles south of Nicaragua’s coast. The storm was then moving northwest at nine miles an hour, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.

In its 5 a.m. advisory on Thursday, the NHC said Nate was moving over warm waters and encountering light wind shear, which could allow for quick intensification. The NHC said the storm’s possible sustained winds could reach near 85 mph by Saturday, making it a Category 1 storm as it approached the Gulf Coast.

This was a change from Wednesday, when forecasters were saying that a chance existed that the system might weaken as it crossed Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula.

“Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida should monitor the progress of this system for the next several days and heed any advice given by local officials,” stated the NHC advisory.

The NHC’s Thursday three-day forecast put the storm in the Gulf of Mexico just north of the Yucatan Peninsula by Saturday morning, and it put it at hurricane strength just off the Gulf Coast by Sunday morning, with New Orleans and Pensacola being the outer boundaries of the projected cone. The NHC put the storm’s projected path in Alabama and northwestern Georgia by early Monday morning.

Forecasters, however, say it’s still too early to know the storm’s exact path or how strong it may get, as various factors can influence its direction and magnitude, including a low-pressure trough in the Florida Straits and a cold front moving down from the northeast. They say also that, depending on how much land the storm crosses, it can weaken. All the same, they advise that Gulf Coast residents be mindful of the storm and continue to monitor its movements.

That warning, they say, goes for the Florida Panhandle and west to Louisiana, as the storm is expected to bring high winds, storm surge and heavy rain.

Already, the weekend forecast for this area is calling for 20 to 40 percent rain on Friday, 60 percent on Saturday, 70 percent on Sunday and 40 percent on Monday, Columbus Day.

Meteorologist Dan Kottiowski, with the weather service AccuWeather, noted on Wednesday that as the storm moved northward and into the warmer waters to the east or southeast of the Yucatan Peninsula, “we could quickly have a powerful hurricane on our hands.”

The NHC underscored the point.

“Rapid intensification is a possibility over the northwestern Caribbean or southern Gulf of Mexico while the system is traversing rather warm and deep waters,” said the NHC on Wednesday. “Although it remains to be seen how separate the depression becomes from a larger gyre (circle or spiral) over Central America.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is encouraging residents and visitors in areas along the Gulf Coast to monitor weather reports and follow directions from local officials.

FEMA notes that history shows that storm tracks can change quickly and unexpectedly. It offers the following preparedness and safety tips:

Be familiar with evacuation routes, have a communications plan, keep a battery-powered radio handy and have a plan for pets, and evacuate if ordered to do so by officials.

Know the terms used to identify severe weather and discuss with your family what to do if a watch or warning is issued.

A Tropical Storm Watch is issued when a tropical cyclone containing winds of at least 39 mph or higher poses a possible threat, generally within 48 hours.

A Tropical Storm Warning is issued when sustained winds of 39 mph or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less.

A Hurricane Watch is issued when a tropical cyclone containing winds of at least 74 mph poses a possible threat, generally within 48 hours.

A Hurricane Warning is issued when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less. A hurricane warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.

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