Tropical Storm Lee made landfall on the Louisiana coast early Sunday, bringing with it heavy rain and winds and fears of extensive flooding and flash flooding from the central Gulf coast to the Tennessee Valley.
Lee was moving at about 3 mph with maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph on Sunday morning as the storm was about 80 miles west of Morgan City and around 50 miles southwest of Lafayette, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
The center of Lee, which was formed in the Gulf of Mexico Friday afternoon, is expected to move slowly over southern Louisiana during the day and at night. “Its slow northward movement will turn northeast later today and east-northeast tonight, bringing the center over southern Louisiana,” the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm can cause widespread flooding and flash flooding with the possibility of rainfall up to 15 inches and “possible isolated amounts of 20 inches” from the central Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley, hurricane forecasters warned. Water levels were already rising up to 5 feet above ground level over parts of the Louisiana coast, and up to 3 feet along the Mississippi and Alabama coast, including Mobile Bay.
Tropical storm-force winds are expected to continue in the warning area, and a few tornadoes are also possible from southern Louisiana to the Florida panhandle, forecasters said. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and the western Florida Panhandle, between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Destin, Florida. This includes Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and the cities of Lake Charles, Lafayette, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, Mobile, Pensacola, and Fort Walton Beach, according to weather.com.
Around 12,000 customers had lost power in Louisiana by late Saturday, according to Entergy Corp. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency and flooding is his main concern.
“We have severe weather warnings and tornado warnings in effect for parts of the state, and residents everywhere need to use extreme caution,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Saturday. “Tropical Storm Lee is moving slowly, as expected, and we are already seeing flooded roads and other effects from rising water levels throughout South Louisiana.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said roughly 60 percent of oil production in the Gulf and over half of natural gas production had been shut down due to the evacuation of personnel from oil and gas production platforms and drilling rigs. This equates to about 844,190 barrels of oil and 2.9 billion cubic feet of gas.
The Gulf accounts for 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural gas production, San Francisco Chronicle said. As much as 91 percent of gas and 98 percent of oil output in the Gulf may be shut in the next four days, it added.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has also declared a state of emergency in several counties due to expected heavy rainfall and floods.
Lee is the 12th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. No injuries were reported from Lee so far.