Tropical Storm Lee strengthened Saturday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. EST update.
Already, Gulf Coast states are feeling the wrath of Tropical Cyclone Lee, which has continuously dumped rain on the coast since Friday morning and whipped trees and power lines with up to 40 mph winds.
“It’s been just raining sheets all night,” Vernon Tucker, a resident of New Orleans, told The Los Angeles Times, Saturday morning.
Meteorologists are saying that Lee could pour as much as 20 inches of rain in isolated areas along the Gulf Coast over next five day. The eye of the storm is expected to cross the Louisiana coast Saturday and move over the southern part of the state through Sunday.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency in ten parishes.
“This is going to be a slow-moving storm. It’s going to bring a lot of rain,” Jindal said Friday.
Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said the effects of the storm will be felt the same regardless of where Lee lands specifically.
“Tropical storm force winds and heavy rains are spread out all the way from Louisiana to Alabama and almost into northwest Florida,” Blake said, according to ABC News.
Tropical storm warnings have been issued from Pascagoula, Miss., to Sabine Pass, Texas.
Weather forecasters described Tropical Storm Lee as a disorganized system and difficult to predict precisely.
“Because it’s not a traditional tropical cyclone, it gives some challenge,” said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, on Friday, The Times-Picayune reported. “If you’re looking for an eye and a center track and a core of maximum winds, you don’t really have that clearly defined.”
“On the other hand, since the changes are occurring relatively gradually, that gives us more time to get the citizens tuned in to what’s happening and prepare for it.”
Tropical Storm Lee will be bearing down on New Orleans just about a week after the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm is predicted to reach maximum sustained winds of 65 mph when it makes landfall.
AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski wrote Friday that Tropical Storm Lee “has the potential to be the next billion-dollar disaster for the U.S., by way of epic flooding.”
Tropical Cyclone Lee will hit the U.S. Coast just a week after Hurricane Irene battered the U.S. East Coast, causing some estimated $8 billion-worth in damage.