11 P.M. UPDATE: Nate has strengthened to 70 mph, just shy of hurricane status, as it moves toward the Gulf of Mexico and expected landfall along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It’s about 100 miles west-northwest of the western tip of Cuba as it moves north-northwest at 22 mph.
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8 P.M. UPDATE: The U.S. Gulf Coast is bracing for a fast-moving blast of wind, heavy rain and rising water as deadly Tropical Storm Nate threatens to reach hurricane strength before a weekend landfall.
By 8 p.m. Eastern time, Nate had strengthened to 65 mph as it moved north-northwest at 22 mph around 90 miles northeast of Cozumel, Mexico. That’s about 570 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The storm is expected to become a hurricane before making landfall late Saturday or early Sunday on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane and storm surge warnings are in effect for southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi and Alabama coasts.
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5 p.m. UPDATE: A hurricane warning has been issued for metro New Orleans as Tropical Storm — and likely soon-to-be Hurricane — Nate neared the northeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. advisory.
It also said a tropical storm warning and a storm surge warning had been extended to Florida’s Panhandle east to the Okaloosa/Walton county line, around Fort Walton Beach.
At 5 p.m., Nate was about 80 miles east of the resort island of Cozumel. Top sustained winds were 60 mph, just short of the 74 mph that would make Nate the season’s ninth hurricane.
It was moving north-northwest and was expected to turn to the north and northeast and “make landfall over the northern Gulf coast Saturday night or Sunday,” as a hurricane, the advisory said.
11 a.m. UPDATE: Hurricane and storm-surge warnings have been posted for the northern Gulf Coast for Saturday night’s expected arrival of what by then likely will be Hurricane Nate.
An 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory said authorities issued a Hurricane Warning for a stretch of coast from Grand Isle, La., to the to the Alabama/Florida state line. A Tropical Storm Warning now is in effect for metropolitan New Orleans and from west of Grand Isle to Morgan City, La.
Storm Surge watches and warnings were up from western Louisiana as far east as the Florida Panhandle near Apalachicola. as well as the New Orleans area’s expansive, and vulnerable, Lake Pontchartrain.
Hurricane Watch is now in effect east of the Alabama/Florida line to the Okaloosa/Walton county line in the Florida Panhandle. On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 29 counties, covering from Pensacola to Gainesville.
Cuba also issued tropical storm watches and warnings for some provinces.
At 11 a.m., Tropical Storm Nate was 175 miles southeast of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel. Top sustained winds were up to 50 mph, not far from the 74 mph threshold for Nate to become the season’s ninth hurricane.
The storm, which had been crawling at 9 mph Thursday, now was racing north-northwest at 21 mph. It was expected to move across the northwestern Caribbean Sea today and be near or over Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula this evening, then approach the northern Gulf coast Saturday.
“Nate is expected to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico,” the advisory said.
Forecasters say they expect the system to become the season’s ninth hurricane as it nears Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
At 8 a.m., Nate’s center was off the coast of Honduras, about 230 miles south-southeast of the resort island of Cozumel, Mexico. It had sped up to 14 mph, from 9 mph on Thursday.
The storm was moving north-northwest, “and this general track with a marked increase in forward speed is expected during the next day or two,” the hurricane center said in its 8 a.m. advisory. It said Nate should move back over water today and reach the Yucatan by tonight, then approach the northern Gulf Coast Saturday evening.
Top sustained winds were near 45 mph, and Nate “is expected to become a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico” on Saturday night, the advisory said.
Tropical-storm and hurricane warnings, as well as a storm-surge watch, remained in place for Honduras and Nicaragua, Mexico, and a stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast from the Texas-Louisiana state line to Florida’s Panhandle.
The storm is expected to dump as much as a foot of rain across the Gulf Coast this weekend. It first will drop as much as 15 inches across Central America, and up to 8 inches on the eastern Yucatan, Cuba and the Cayman Islands.