(TNS) - The tropical storm headed toward the Gulf of Mexico is now officially Tropical Storm Nate and while the forecast overnight shifted its projected landfall somewhere between the western Panhandle and Louisiana, it is still forecast to become a hurricane and state officials are gathering here this morning to talk about preparedness plans and the unpredictability of these storms.
Gov. Rick Scott, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are meeting with county emergency management officials at 11:15 a.m. at the county's Emergency Operations Center to talk about storm plans.
Thursday morning's forecast put the storm - which on Wednesday was shown beelining to Bay County - making landfall to our west shortly after becoming a Category 1 hurricane early Sunday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The NHC had it moving across Nicaragua today with maximum winds of 35 knots and heavy rains, and the possibility of "life-threatening flash flood or mudslides" during the next 24 hours.
After that, the storm will again strengthen as it cross the warmer Caribbean Sea and where atmospheric conditions are "conducive for strenghtening," the NHC reported. The amount of that strengthening before the storm cross the Yukatan Peninsula late Friday.
The real concern comes with what kind of shape the storm's core is in after that landfall as it enters the much warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The NHC says strengthening is possible and expected as Nate moves over the Gulf of Mexico, and its "intensity forecast brings the system to hurricane strength within 72 hours."
The storm is moving northwest and forecasters are predicting that a large "mid- to upper-level ridge" will build of the southeast U.S. coast, steering the storm north/northwestward faster before it "recurves" around the ridge and heads toward, at the moment, the New Orleans Mobile area. But the cone of uncertainty stretches from there to the east almost to Bay County and officials aren't confident of anything right now.
The NHC did put the following "Key Messages" for the public at its 5 a.m. forecast today:
1. The depression is forecast to strengthen and bring tropical storm conditions to portions of Nicaragua and Honduras through early Friday. Heavy rainfall could produce life-threatening flash flooding and mud slides in portions of Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama through Friday night.
2. The system could be near hurricane intensity when it approaches the Yucatan Peninsula late Friday, bringing direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall, and a hurricane watch is in effect for a portion of this area.
3. The system is forecast to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and could affect portions of the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane this weekend, with direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall. However, it is too early to specify the timing, location, or magnitude of these impacts. Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system and heed any advice given by local officials.
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