Tropical Storm Nate is on a trajectory to hit to U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend but how strong the storm will be and where exactly the storm will make landfall, likely somewhere between Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, are still up in the air.
Nate came into being Thursday morning when Tropical Depression 16 was upgraded to a tropical storm.
Moving at 10 mph north-northwest over eastern Honduras, the storm is bringing heavy rainfall across Central America, even along the Pacific coast side, according to the National Hurricane Center. Southern Honduras and western Nicaragua could see 6-10 inches of rain, with a maximum of 20 inches in some parts.
There is also a threat of "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides, strong gusts of wind, up to 3 feet of storm surge and "life-threatening" surf and rip current conditions, the NHC said. Nate has already been tied to at least 22 deaths in Central America.
From there, the storm is expected to strengthen over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico into at least a Category 1 hurricane, with 75 mph sustained winds.
Nate is expected to make landfall over the U.S. by Sunday morning, but just where it is forecast to do so has changed over the last 24 hours, as models have pushed its track to the west, away from the Florida panhandle. That puts Louisiana more directly in its expected path, but Weather.com says that the uncertainty surrounding Nate is higher than normal.
The storm's intensity upon landfall is also in question, with forecasters warning people along the Gulf Coast to stay on alert. A hurricane watch was put into effect for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama late Thursday.
Here are the 11 PM EDT key messages for #Nate. Hurricane and storm surge watches issued for the U.S. Gulf coast. https://t.co/FL3pi16PWx pic.twitter.com/R4IosPCWlY— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) October 6, 2017
"Since the system will be moving over very warm waters, we could quickly have a powerful hurricane on our hands," according to AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said. Meanwhile, Weather.com says that once the storm leaves the Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico it could be moving too fast over the the Gulf of Mexico to gather too much strength.
A National Hurricane Center scientist said on his personal Twitter account Thursday evening that Nate currently doesn't look like a well-organized storm, and that Friday will be a "key day" to see how it could rebound.
Obviously #Nate isn't well organized at the moment. Tomorrow is a key day to see how intact it emerges from Honduras for strengthening pic.twitter.com/Qbg712HnL9— Eric Blake (@EricBlake12) October 5, 2017
Regardless of Nate's strength, once it makes landfall, forecasters believe it will weaken back into a tropical storm relatively quickly and unlike the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, which sat and dumped rain on Texas and Louisiana, will move quickly up the interior eastern U.S., bringing rain to places that have been experiencing drought conditions. The remnants of the impending hurricane are then expected to veer east toward Pennsylvania and even Washington, D.C., according to the latest NHC forecast cone.
Two U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which ran through the Caribbean last month. Some Puerto Ricans are still struggling to gain access to food, water, and gas, and power may not be returned to some parts of the island for months. President Trump visited Puerto Rico to meet with local officials and people impacted by the storm on Tuesday. Officials raised the death toll tied to Maria to 34 on Tuesday.