Flash flood warnings are in effect over parts of the western Florida panhandle and southern Alabama as up to several inches of rain has fallen and more is expected overnight.
Tropical Storm Gordon is slamming into the north central Gulf Coast on Tuesday night, unleashing multiple hazards along the coast, including torrential rain, strong winds, and a storm surge of up to several feet, which is a rise in ocean water above normally dry coastal land.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm will bring “life-threatening” hurricane conditions to parts of the region.
The latest (9:15 p.m. eastern)
Packing winds of 70 mph, the storm is just 4 mph from hurricane-strength, which it may attain before coming ashore. Positioned 70 miles south of Mobile, Ala., Gordon is moving toward the northwest at 14 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds extend about 80 miles from the center.
Gordon’s outer bands began to lash the western Florida panhandle with heavy rain Tuesday morning. And, during the afternoon and evening, the rains expanded into coastal Alabama. Parts of this region have already received 2 to 4 inches of rain and are under a flash flood warning.
Winds have also begun to crank up. Hurricane Center reported a weather station on Alabama’s Dauphin Island clocked sustained winds of 45 mph with gusts to 54 mph. Social media video showed the incoming storm surge bringing coastal flooding to this same area.
On Tuesday evening, weather radar showed heavy rainfall from Pensacola, Fla. to Mobile, Ala., as the western fringe of the storm’s bands crossed the Alabama border into Mississippi. It showed the storm’s core, containing the strongest winds and heaviest rain, just about 15 to 30 miles offshore and likely to move inland by midnight eastern (11 p.m central).
The Hurricane Center said the storm is going through a “convective bursting phase” which means thunderstorms are erupting near its center. Often, this is indicative of a storm that is intensifying.
Hurricane warnings stretch from the Florida/Alabama border to the Louisiana/Mississippi border as the storm center is most likely to strike along the Mississippi or Alabama coastline. This zone is expected to witness the most severe storm effects.
Tropical storm warnings extend to the west to around New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain and to the east over the western Florida panhandle. While likely to remain outside of the storm’s core, this zone is still expected to see gusty winds and heavy rainfall.
The worst conditions are expected to arrive along the north central Gulf Coast Tuesday evening and night. Periods of torrential rain and strong winds should continue overnight Tuesday into early Wednesday.
Conditions should improve along the coast during the day Wednesday, while heavy rain expands inland through western Mississippi, northeast Louisiana, and southeast Arkansas.
“Gordon will not be just a coastal event, and not just wind but also water could be damaging, dangerous and even deadly, especially if preparations are not rushed to completion as early as possible today before tropical storm conditions arrive,” said Rick Knabb, The Weather Channel’s tropical weather expert. “Evacuate immediately away from coastal storm surges if instructed by local officials. Don’t drive your vehicle onto any water-covered roads in coastal and inland areas. Nine out of ten fatalities in tropical systems are due to water.”
Gordon is expected to dispense 4 to 8 inches of rain over a large swath of the north central Gulf Coast as well as areas farther inland, through central Mississippi and southern Arkansas. The Hurricane Center said isolated amounts could reach a foot, and that areas of flash flooding were expected between Tuesday and Wednesday.
A storm surge warning was posted for the north central Gulf Coast from Shell Beach, La. to Dauphin Island, Ala. In this zone, the water could rise up 3 to 5 feet above normally dry land at the coast. This inundation could flood and potentially damage low-lying roads, homes, and businesses.
“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves,” the Hurricane Center said. “Surge-related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances.”
Sustained winds of tropical-storm-force are likely in the zone under a hurricane warning, with the possibility of hurricane-force gusts, over 74 mph. These winds could damage roofs and siding, and snap trees and branches, and the resulting debris may block some roads. Scattered power outages are likely.
Tropical-storm-force winds could reach the western Florida panhandle Tuesday afternoon and the Alabama-Mississippi coastline by early evening.
Elsewhere in the tropics: Watching Hurricane Florence, and more
Gordon is not the only storm forecasters are monitoring. Florence, in the central Atlantic, strengthened into the third hurricane of the Atlantic season Tuesday morning. The storm is forecast to begin a slow weakening trend Wednesday through Thursday, as it starts to curl to the northwest. However, it is then predicted to re-intensify heading into the weekend.
The long-range track forecast for Florence remains a wildcard. Some computer model simulations on Sunday and Monday suggested it could be a threat to the East Coast in about a week. However, many have since backed away from that idea.
Brian McNoldy, Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert, noted very few simulations from the American and European modeling systems bring the storm close to the U.S. “So it can’t be ruled out, but it’s unlikely,” he said. “Bermuda should be paying close attention though.”
Farther to the east, another disturbance emerging off Africa’s west coast has a 70 percent chance to develop into a tropical depression or storm over the next five days. Should it earn a name, it will be called Helene.
Trucks with the Alabama Department of Transportation work to block off a flooded part of U.S. Highway 98 while fighting rain from Tropical Storm Gordon. (Dan Anderson/AP)
How people are preparing for Tropical Storm Gordon