Weather officials on Saturday issued a hurricane warning for large swaths of the central Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Nate hurtled toward New Orleans.
Forecasters expected Nate to grow into a category two hurricane, with wind speeds of at least 96 mph, before making U.S. landfall in eastern Louisiana or Mississippi Saturday evening.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, the storm was gathering strength in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, moving north-northwest with maximum sustained wind speeds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane conditions were expected in certain parts of the northern Gulf Coast within hours, the center reported.
Tropical storm-force winds extended 125 miles from the center of the storm, mainly to the east.
A stretch of the northern Gulf Coast, from Grand Isle, La. to the Alabama-Florida border, was under a hurricane warning. A broader stretch of coastline that extended east to the Okaloosa-Walton county line in the Florida Panhandle was subject to a storm surge warning and a hurricane watch. Portions of the southeast could get up to 10 inches of rain, the NHC said.
While the Tampa Bay area is far out of the path of the storm, Nate is expected to bring high surfs and a heightened risk of rip currents this weekend in the area, according to WTSP meteorologist Grant Gilmore. Cities as far south as Crystal River in Citrus County could experience storm surge of up to three feet.
And Tampa Bay could still experience breezy conditions and periods of heavy rain. Cloud cover from the storm already started to stream over Florida, providing a forecast of a mostly overcast day weekend.
Mexico's government discontinued hurricane watches along the Yucatan peninsula.
The NHC was also tracking another tropical wave developing in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Forecasters estimated it had a 60 percent chance of strengthening into a cyclone over the next five days. It was too early to tell Friday what track it might take or whether it could affect land.