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Gulf Coast are already feeling storm conditions that have 7 million under warnings

CNN logo CNN 6/19/2021 By Jay Croft and Aya Elamroussi, CNN
a close up of a rock near the ocean © CNN Weather

Heavy rain and tropical storm-force winds were spreading across parts of the Gulf Coast on Friday as a tropical disturbance closed in on the US.

There were tropical storm conditions from east of Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Florida Panhandle. About 7 million Americans are under warnings for heavy winds and rain.

Maximum sustained winds with the system increased Friday from 35 to 45 mph as the system moved generally northward towards the US Gulf Coast.

Despite having sustained winds supportive of a tropical storm, the system remains disorganized without a center of circulation required to be a named storm.

"Satellite images and surface observations indicate that the circulation is slowly becoming better defined, and the system still is likely to become a tropical or subtropical storm before landfall," according to the hurricane center.

If the storm forms it will gain the official name Claudette. Regardless, the storm will hit the Louisiana coastline Friday night, according to the National Hurricane Center.

"Landfall is expected later tonight, with the center moving near or over New Orleans on Saturday morning," said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

Grand Isle, Louisiana, measured sustained winds at 40 mph. An oil rig south of the southeastern coast of Louisiana reported sustained winds of 44 mph and a wind gust of 58 mph.

Tropical storm-force winds can be felt as far as 205 miles from the center of the disturbance, forecasters said.

Louisiana, hit hard by heavy rain and flooding last month, is under a state of emergency.

The storm is forecast to hit Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle through the weekend, according to CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford.

Tropical storm warnings extend from Louisiana into the Florida Panhandle, affecting cities like New Orleans; Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida.

Heavy rainfall is expected to bring flash flooding across the central Gulf Coast on Friday night. These flood impacts are forecast to spread across the Southeast much of Saturday and into Sunday.

Widespread rainfall totals of 4-8 inches are expected but upwards of a foot of rain is possible, especially along the coast.

Most of the heavy rain and wind will be east of where the center hits land. So eastern Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia will bear the worst of the storm, forecasters say.

And some areas of the coast could see up to 3 feet of storm surge.

Hennen said 14 million people are under flash flood watches from Louisiana to Georgia, including New Orleans; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta.

Rainfall on the already saturated ground could be more than a foot in some areas.

Louisiana activates crisis action team

The storm is expected to make landfall along the Louisiana coastline Friday overnight or Saturday morning.

After landfall, the storm will weaken and head to the northeast, impacting Montgomery, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina, Shackelford predicted.

The energy company Chevron Corp. said it has pulled non-essential workers from some Gulf of Mexico offshore operations ahead of the potential tropical weather.

"In preparation for the tropical weather, we have transported all non-essential personnel from our Chevron-operated Big Foot, Jack / St. Malo, and Tahiti platforms. All personnel on our Genesis facility have also been moved onshore," Chevron spokesperson Tyler Kruzich told CNN in a statement.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards released a statement Thursday, saying, "The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has activated its Crisis Action Team and stands ready to support our local partners with any emergency resources needed beyond parish capabilities."

Last month, at least four people died when torrential rain flooded parts of the state.

Last year, two hurricanes hit Louisiana within weeks -- Hurricane Laura was Category 4 when it made landfall in August near Lake Charles, and Hurricane Delta struck the area just six weeks later.

In Mississippi, some Juneteenth celebrations have been postponed and canceled along the coast.

In a post on its official Facebook page, Gulfport announced that its City-Wide event has been pushed to June 26. The Juneteenth Freedom Festival in Gautier has been pushed to July, their Facebook event page shows.

Meanwhile, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art's Juneteenth celebration in Biloxi has been canceled, according to the museum.

a large waterfall over a body of water: A satellite image taken Friday morning shows the tropical weather system in the Gulf of Mexico. © NOAA via AP A satellite image taken Friday morning shows the tropical weather system in the Gulf of Mexico.
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