Nate upgraded to Category 1 hurricane, takes aim at US Gulf Coast

Guido Amrein/iStock/Thinkstock
Guido Amrein/iStock/Thinkstock

(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Nate was upgraded Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET to a Category 1 hurricane with estimated maximum winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center announced.

Nate’s location was about 95 miles WNW of the western tip of Cuba, and about 495 miles SSE of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

It was moving at NNW at 22 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

“An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft just penetrated the center of Nate and reported the hurricane-force winds,” read the National Hurricane Center bulletin.

 

⚠????UPDATE: #Nate has strengthened to a Category 1 Hurricane this evening.

— NWS Mobile (@NWSMobile) October 7, 2017

 

 

Hurricane #Nate Update: Air Force Hurricane Hunter finds that Nate has become a hurricane: https://t.co/2GyAERl7E1

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) October 7, 2017

 

Tropical Storm Nate had gained force as it sped past Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Friday after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 21 deaths. Forecasters said it was likely to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast over the weekend, likely Saturday night.

A tropical storm that killed at least 22 people in Central America is now forecast to strengthen into a hurricane over the weekend before roaring ashore in New Orleans.

Hurricane watches and warnings were already in effect for coastal areas of four southeastern U.S. states, including metropolitan New Orleans, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm warnings have extended into central Alabama, Mississippi, northern Georgia — including Atlanta — and the western panhandle of Florida.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the state braces for a direct hit. Edwards mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 going to New Orleans to monitor the troubled pump and drainage system there.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Edwards instructed Louisianans in affected areas to gather supplies now and be positioned to hunker down by 8 p.m. Saturday.

New Orleans residents fill sand bags in preparation for Tropical Storm Nate, Oct. 6, 2017, in New Orleans.

On Friday, Edwards’ pre-disaster emergency declaration request for 17 Louisiana Parishes was approved by President Donald Trump, according to a statement form the governor’s office. This will help the state to more easily access federal response resources in the event that they become necessary.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the city ahead of the storm’s approach. Landrieu warned that the areas outside of the levee protection system could see a 3-to-6-foot storm surge. A citywide curfew goes into effect at 7 p.m. Saturday, Edwards announced on Friday.

Landrieu said officials are working “around the clock” to repair all power and pumps for the city’s drainage system, which is stricken from flooding from recent rain. As of Thursday afternoon, 108 of the city’s 120 pumps were working, the mayor said.

St. Bernard Parish, just 5 miles southeast of downtown New Orleans, has declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation for residents outside of the levee system.

St. John the Baptist Parish, located 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, issued a voluntary evacuation for areas north of the Interstate 55 exit ramp, specifically Peavine, Frenier and Manchac.

The Atlantic has seen five major hurricanes — Category 3 or higher — during the 2017 season, two short of the record set in 2005, when seven major hurricanes hit.

The new weather system, dubbed Nate, strengthened into a tropical storm in the western Caribbean Sea near Nicaragua on Thursday morning. It pounded Central America with rain heavy, causing deadly flash floods and mudslides. Some areas could see up to 15 inches of rain through the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.

According to The Associated Press, 22 people were killed, including 15 in Nicaragua and seven in Costa Rica. Costa Rican officials said 15 people were missing as well.

Tropical Storm Nate traversed the northwestern Caribbean Sea today and reached the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula early this evening. The storm’s center was churning about 90 miles northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and racing through the Yucatan Channel at 22 mph as of 8 p.m. ET. Maximum sustained winds were 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“Strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Nate is expected to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico,” the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.

Nate is forecast to approach southeastern Louisiana early Sunday, making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane east of New Orleans between Gulfport and Mobile, Alabama. The Gulf will start to experience tropical storm and hurricane conditions by Saturday evening.

In preparation for the storm, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency that went into effect at 7 a.m. ET Friday.

Ivey said in a press conference Friday that while the coast will experience the worst of the storm, Birmingham could experience strong winds and rain. Meteorologist Jim Stefkovich advised Alabama residents to be in a safe place by noon on Saturday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 29 countries.

Oil and gas companies began evacuating six production platforms on Thursday, according to the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement. While one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path, no drilling rigs have been evacuated.

Nate could drop 3 to 6 inches of rain in states along the central U.S. Gulf Coast, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Tropical storm conditions and hurricane conditions are possible within the designated watch areas Saturday night.

Meanwhile, a storm surge is expected to raise water levels by as much as 4 to 7 feet from Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida border, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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