The low-pressure disturbance making its way through the Gulf of Mexico has been upgraded to Tropical Storm Barry and shows signs of continued strengthening, The National Weather Service said Thursday.
The storm had already begun to send lashings of heavy rain across the north and western Gulf states when the Weather Service announced the upgrade at 10 am Thursday. Even before becoming Barry, the disturbance unexpectedly dropped enough rain on New Orleans that residents were kayaking down city streets.
Now, the National Hurricane Center warns Barry will strengthen to a hurricane just before it makes landfall along the Louisiana coast by late Friday or early Saturday morning. While Barry is not forecast to be a strong hurricane as far as wind is concerned, it poses a great threat because of the amount of rain being pulled into the system and sent ashore over prolonged periods of time.
"The slow movement of this system will result in a long duration heavy rainfall threat along the central Gulf Coast and inland through the lower Mississippi Valley through the weekend and potentially into next week," the Hurricane Center said in an update.
The Mississippi River has already been swollen for months and now could see an additional 18 inches of rain by Monday, forecasters said. The river could rise to 20 feet by Saturday morning, pushing the limits of the city's 20-to-25-foot-high levees.
The Army Corps of Engineers believes the levees will hold, but warned spillage may become an issue for some areas.
"We're confident the levees themselves are in good shape. The big focus is height," Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyett said.
The Corps, he said, is working to reinforce low-lying areas, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a statewide emergency in anticipation of the storm.
Tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches are already in place along the Louisiana coast.
While the storm is heading west, it's sending some treacherous conditions east to Florida, the Weather Service said. Strong waves are being pushed east, creating hazardous rip current conditions to the Florida coast. A high rip current warning was put into effect through Friday evening for much of Florida's Gulf coast and could last through the weekend.
"You might wake up to a nice sunny morning and say, 'It's a great beach day, lets head to the beach,' but there can be some strong, dangerous currents that can pull swimmers out," Weather Service forecaster Ernie Jillson said. "It's hard to say when they'll get stronger. That depends on how fast this system intensifies, but this could continue through the weekend."
2019 TAMPA BAY TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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