This is a satellite image taken Friday of the system in the Gulf of Mexico that could become Tropical Storm Claudette later in the day. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
June 18 (UPI) -- A tropical storm warning spanning from Intracoastal City, La., to the Florida Panhandle's Okaloosa/Walton County line is in effect, as a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to strengthen over the weekend and reach land.
The system, which would be named Claudette if it reaches tropical storm strength, is expected to drop a significant amount of rain along the Gulf Coast regardless, weather experts predict.
Early Friday morning, the system was situated 310 miles south of Morgan City, La., moving north at 14 mph. Its sustained winds at that time, 35 mph, were just 4 mph miles shy of minimum tropical storm strength.
The National Hurricane Center said there is a 90% chance the storm will be elevated to at least a tropical storm over the next 48 hours to five days.
"Rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches are expected across portions of the central Gulf Coast beginning today," the National Hurricane Center said in a statement.
"Considerable flash, urban and small stream flooding impacts, as well as new and renewed minor to isolated moderate river flooding, are likely."
The metropolitan area of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain are part of the area facing the tropical storm.
AccuWeather senior meteorologist Rob Miller said the system, though, likely won't become stronger than a tropical storm.
"While there continued to be a low-level circulation evident over the southwestern Gulf, winds blowing at different directions and strength higher up in the atmosphere, known as wind shear, were preventing organization and gathering of moisture near the center of the storm just above the surface of the water," he said.
Forecasters predict the system to continue its current movement over the upcoming days, approaching the north-central Gulf Coast by early Saturday. The system is expected to move slowly northeast as it crosses the southeastern United States.
Heavy rain could span across southeastern Mississippi, southern and central Alabama and central Georgia once the system reaches land, dumping rainfall totals of 3 to 5 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 7 inches in some areas.
Coastal storm surge may reach 2 to 3 feet in the affected areas, the National Hurricane Center said.
The threat of tornados produced by the system could start Friday afternoon across coastal Louisiana, and then spread overnight into Saturday across southern portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, to the western Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.