AP Image - Tropical Storm Karen
(USA TODAY) - Although weakening, Tropical Storm Karen continued its path toward the Gulf Coast late Friday, with landfall expected sometime late Saturday or early Sunday morning.
Karen was just one of four major weather events impacting the USA on Friday: For what may be the first time in modern records, says Weather Underground weather historian Christopher Burt, the U.S. is facing a simultaneous threat from a tropical storm landfall, a blizzard, tornado outbreak, and extreme wild fire event.
A blizzard was pounding portions of the northern Rockies and northern Plains with more than two feet of snow in some spots; parts of the upper Midwest were bracing for a potentially destructive severe weather and tornado outbreak later Friday; and southern California was in the midst of what the National Weather Service was calling the most significant fire weather threat in five years.
While not a big story, to add to the wild weather potpourri, the East Coast was experiencing a record-shattering October heat wave, with high soaring to near 90 degrees as far north as New Jersey.
As of late afternoon Friday, Tropical Storm Karen had maximum winds of 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm was about 235 miles south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving north-northwest at 7 mph.
The storm could become a hurricane as it approaches land. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph. However, according to a bulletin from the hurricane center, "it has become a little less likely that Karen will reach hurricane strength."
A hurricane watch that had been in effect earlier was dropped. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for the Louisiana coast from Morgan City to the mouth of the Pearl River. A tropical storm watch was in effect for metropolitan New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain, and from east of the mouth of the Pearl River to Indian Pass, Fla.
Karen would be the second named storm to hit the U.S. this year, with the first being Tropical Storm Andrea, which hit Florida in June. Karen is the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. Only two of the storms have become hurricanes.
Near and just east of where Karen makes landfall, minor coastal flooding is possible, AccuWeather meteorologist Michael Doll reports. Wind gusts close to 65 mph can cause minor property damage, downed trees and power outages.
The highest odds of tropical storm-force winds (a 66% chance) will be at the tip of the Mississippi River at Buras, La., according to meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground. He adds that New Orleans, Gulfport, Mobile, and Pensacola have odds ranging from 47% - 51%.
A storm surge of from 3-5 feet is possible from the mouth of the Mississippi over to Mobile Bay, the hurricane center predicts. Offshore waves at beaches in the Florida Panhandle may reach 8 to 12 feet high as Karen approaches, according to the National Weather Service.
As for rainfall, Karen is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 Inches over portions of the central and eastern Gulf coast through Sunday night, mainly near and to the right of the path of the storm's center, the hurricane center says. Isolated storm total amounts of 10 inches are possible.
Once the storm moves inland later Saturday, it should dump rain across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic Monday.
In Alabama, safety workers Thursday hoisted double red flags at Gulf Shores because of treacherous rip currents ahead of the storm.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, urging residents to prepare. because of the potential winds. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also declared a state of emergency, citing the possibility of high winds, heavy rain and tides. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared an emergency for 18 counties.
Traffic at the mouth of the Mississippi River was stopped Friday morning in advance of the storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it was closing a structure intended to keep storm surge out of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal in Louisiana - known locally as the Industrial Canal - where levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina led to catastrophic flooding in 2005.
Mayor David Camardelle of Grand Isle, La., an inhabited barrier island and tourist town about 60 miles south of New Orleans, called for voluntary evacuations as he declared an emergency Thursday afternoon.
Offshore, at least two oil companies said they were evacuating non-essential personnel and securing rigs and platforms.
In Washington, the White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was recalling some workers furloughed due to the government shutdown to prepare for the storm.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was being updated about the storm. He said Obama directed his team to ensure staffing and resources are available to respond to the storm.