Tropical Storm Nate: Path to Gulf Coast shifts west but still very uncertain –

Newly upgraded Tropical Storm Nate continued to dump heavy rain on Central America on Thursday morning as it approached the coast of Nicaragua.

But most eyes on the Gulf Coast are trained on the forecast path, which has shifted westward and shows what could be Hurricane Nate making landfall this weekend anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.

As of the 7 a.m. CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Storm Nate was located about 10 miles south of Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua and was moving northwest at 8 mph.

Nate’s winds increased to 40 mph. Tropical storm force winds begin at 39 mph.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect from Sandy Bay Sirpi in Nicaragua to Punta Castilla in Honduras.

A hurricane watch is in effect from Punta Herrero to Rio Lagartos in Mexico.

The hurricane center expects Nate to make landfall later today in northeastern Nicaragua. It will then briefly cross over land and emerge back into the northwestern Caribbean by tonight, where it could strengthen more.

Forecasters said the center will be near the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by Friday night.

Then it enters the Gulf, and then the speculation really ramps up.

The track has shifted a good bit to the west overnight. Earlier forecasts had shown the center making landfall close to Panama City, Fla. But as of Thursday morning the center of the storm is forecast to come ashore near the Mississippi-Alabama border.

However, expect that track to shift again.

Tropical Storm Nate is still weak and could move near or over land two times before it reaches the Gulf Coast, which could alter its path.

The storm is expected to move around the western side of an area of high pressure that stretches from near the Bahamas into the central Caribbean. That will keep it moving to the northwest or north-northwest for the next day or two.

By Saturday another ridge is forecast to take shape off the coast of the Southeast U.S., which could steer the storm to the north-northwest at a faster pace.

It’s important to remember that effects from the storm could be felt far from where the center makes landfall, especially on the eastern side.

Here’s a key point from the hurricane center: “The system is forecast to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and could affect portions of the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane this weekend, with direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy
rainfall. However, it is too early to specify the timing, location, or magnitude of these impacts. Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system and heed any advice given by local officials.”

How will Nate affect Alabama?

The National Weather Service in Mobile said rain chances near the coast will begin to increase on Saturday.

Heavy rain and isolated tornadoes will be possible well north of the center. In addition, seas will increasingly become rougher over the weekend, along with minor coastal flooding and a high rip current risk.

Winds are expected to increase late Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday as the system moves northward and across the area.

South Alabama could get 1-3 inches of rain from Nate, with isolated areas getting up to 6 inches. Depending on its track areas farther north could also get several inches of rain.

“The track and eventual landfall location may change as the system enters the Gulf and moves northward,” the weather service said early Thursday. “But with all tropical systems, the heavy rainfall, tornado and surge impacts are much higher east of the center, so the entire forecast area could be at risk, especially since the track has been adjusted west.”

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