Heavy rains from slow-moving Tropical Storm Lee have begun to drench southern Louisiana.
People along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas are bracing for the impact of Lee, the 12th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Tropical storm warnings have been issued along the coast from Mississippi to Texas and flash flood warnings extended along the Alabama coast into the Florida Panhandle.
The large storm that was churning in the Gulf of Mexico grew as Tropical Storm Lee, on Friday, is bringing up to 20 inches of rains to parts of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The U.S. is on high tropical cyclone alert, as Tropical Storm Lee strengthens and is forecast to inundate the Gulf Coast including New Orleans with possible severe flash flooding, and Hurricane Katia forces U.S. East Coast residents to keep a keen eye on that storm's strengthening and path.
Lee was expected to bring heavy rain on the central Louisiana coast on late Saturday and turn east toward New Orleans.
Tropical cyclones form tropical storms when winds exceed 39 miles per hour (63 kilometers per hour). They turn into hurricanes when winds top 74 miles per hour. Lee would be the 12th named storm of the busy 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.
Strong winds and heavy rain have already began lashing down on Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast residents on Friday afternoon as Lee lurches closer to New Orleans.
Tropical Storm Lee strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico as it moved north toward Louisiana’s coast, shutting down almost half the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and a third of natural gas output.
Lee is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of Morgan City, Louisiana, heading north-northwest at 7 miles per hour and “producing heavy rains” over the south of the state, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory before 5 a.m. East Coast time. About 47.6 percent of Gulf oil production and 33 percent of natural gas output has been shut by the storm, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
The Gulf accounts for 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural gas production.
The center of Lee is expected to “cross the Louisiana coast this afternoon or tonight, then slowly cross southern Louisiana on Sunday,” the hurricane center said.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, saying the storm threatens “extremely heavy, prolonged” rain over the state and may cause flash flooding and high tides.