[Updated 5:35 p.m. EDT Friday.] Tropical storm warnings are in effect for Louisiana's southeast coast as tropical storm Karen continues to swirl toward the Gulf Coast.
The storm has prompted oil and gas companies to evacuate drilling platforms in the Gulf. In Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has recalled some furloughed employees to help respond to disaster-response needs as Karen reaches the coast and moves inland.
At 5 p.m. EDT, Karen's center was located about 280 miles south of New Orleans and was packing maximum sustained winds of 52 miles per hour, with gusts to 63 m.p.h. Tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 140 miles from Karen's center.
Late Thursday, forecasts of the storm's track nudged the path to the west, with the storm's first landfall currently forecast for early Sunday morning as it crosses the Mississippi River Delta. Karen is slated for a second landfall later Sunday near Pensacola, Fla.
Forecasters caution, however, that their confidence in the landfall locations is low. The storm is expected to head in a generally north-northwesterly direction for the next 36 to 48 hours. Sometime within that period, Karen is expected to hook to the northeast. But the models forecasters use to help inform their track forecast don't agree on when that happens. The timing would affect landfall locations.
The current track, however, leads forecasters to anticipate storm surges of up to five feet, depending on location and whether the storm's landfall coincides with high tide. The largest effect would be felt from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Mobile Bay, where the surge is expected to range from three to five feet. Florida's Apalachee Bay could see a two- to four-foot surge. Other locations long the central and eastern Gulf Coast could see a surge ranging from one to three feet.
While forecasters say they expect Karen to strengthen somewhat before landfall, they say it is most likely to remain a tropical storm rather than reach hurricane status.
The westward shift in the track has prompted forecasters to extend their tropical storm warning westward, as well. It now covers a stretch of the coast from the mouth of the Pearl River, the boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi, west to Morgan City, La. A tropical storm watch remains in effect and stretches from the Pearl River east to Indian Point, Fla.
A tropical storm watch covers metro New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain, and Lake Maurepas, and extends from Destin to Indian Point, Fla.
The storm is expected to drop between three and six inches of rain over the central and eastern Gulf Coast over the course of the weekend, with some locations receiving as much as 10 inches.
Karen is the 11th storm of the season to reach tropical storm status. Data on tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic between 1966 and 2009 indicate that the 11th named storm typically appears toward the end of November, the final month of the Atlantic hurricane season. But an average season also will have seen six hurricanes by then. This season has generated two hurricanes so far, Humberto and Ingrid. Humberto formed off the west coast of Africa and fizzled out over the central Atlantic. Ingrid formed in the Bay of Campeche on Mexico's east and looped eastward into the Gulf before returning to make landfall near La Pesca.
While overall tropical cyclone activity is above normal, forecasters at Accuweather.com note that this season is one of the weakest hurricane seasons since 1950.