CNN: The first tropical system of the year spins away in the Gulf, lashing the Deep South with rain, causing flooding in New Orleans and putting 4 million people under flash flood watches. It’s expected that the system will strengthen and become Tropical Storm Barry later today.
By tomorrow, it could be a Category 1 hurricane.
The storm could make landfall Saturday in Louisiana or Texas. Meanwhile, almost 40 million Americans are under warnings or advisories because of dangerous heat.
A dangerous storm expected to become the first hurricane to slam the US this year is getting stronger, dumping intense rain and turning streets into lakes.
As of Thursday morning, the tropical system is still centered in the Gulf of Mexico, whipping maximum sustained winds of 35 mph as it heads toward Gulf Coast states.
If those winds strengthen to 39 mph, the system will officially become Tropical Storm Barry.
But by the time it makes landfall — possibly on Saturday in Louisiana — it’ll likely be a hurricane with winds topping 74 mph.
Even worse: This is a slow-moving storm, crawling across the Gulf at just 5 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
That means the system will hover over the same places for a long time, dropping relentless rain and adding to the widespread flooding.
Torrential rain and flooding are the biggest threats
Southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle are under the gun for extreme rainfall Thursday, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.
And storm surge on the coast could be “life-threatening,” the National Hurricane Center said.
The rain and storm surge will cause the Mississippi River to swell to dangerous levels. The Mississippi River could crest at 20 feet in New Orleans, or 1.3 feet below the record. The city is only protected to a height of 20 feet.
In preparation for the onslaught, Louisiana officials have started closing flood gates. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority has about 250 flood gates, spokesman Antwan Harris said.
More than 200 flood gates in New Orleans and St. Bernard parishes are expected to be closed by Friday, local media reported.
New Orleans suffered the wrath of the storm’s outer bands Wednesday, when up to 9 inches of rain submerged entire neighborhoods under water.