Tropical Storm Nate could strike US Gulf Coast as hurricane this weekend

(ABC News) — A tropical storm in the southwestern Caribbean is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane that could affect the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The system, formerly a tropical depression, strengthened into a tropical storm near the coast of Nicaragua this morning. Tropical Storm Nate was moving into eastern Honduras, churning 40 miles west-southwest of Puerto Lempira, Honduras, as of 5 p.m. ET, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The tropical storm is pounding Nicaragua with rain heavy enough to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Up to 30 inches of rain is possible in some areas of Central America through Friday night.

Tropical Storm Nate is expected to be near Cancun, Mexico, by Friday night, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Nate could reach hurricane status as early as Saturday while entering the Gulf of Mexico. Its trajectory has it on track to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday night or Sunday morning as a weak Category 1 hurricane, with winds of about 80 mph. Then, the storm is expected to weaken to a post-tropical system, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the track and the storm’s strength are subject to change.

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Residents from Louisiana to Florida are being warned to monitor the system as it approaches this weekend. The area is still feeling the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 29 counties Thursday afternoon to prepare for the tropical storm’s approach.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the city, he said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. A coastal flood advisory is in effect for New Orleans until 12 p.m. on Sunday, and storm surge is possible throughout the weekend, according to the mayor’s office.

Officials are working “around the clock” to repair all power and pumps for the city’s drainage system, Landrieu said.

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

So far, 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.