A 5-foot surge had already inundated some coastal areas in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi, while up to 6 to 10 inches of flooding rain had fallen in parts of the Florida Panhandle through Sunday afternoon.
Up to a foot of rain was possible in sections of southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, and southern Mississippi.
While wind gusts were generally below damaging levels, they had been clocked in the 40 to 60 mph range along the coast in Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi. Of greater concern, were tornadoes embedded within the storm’s bands; several tornado warnings were issued along the northern Gulf Coast Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, a tornado that spun up on the periphery of the storm caused damage in Orlando.
The storm made landfall at 6:10 p.m. eastern in southeast Louisiana between the mouth of the Mississippi River and Grand Isle with peak sustained winds of 50 mph as it moved north at 7 mph.
While the Gulf Coast was the zone of greatest concern for storm impacts Sunday, Cristobal is predicted to be drawn northward through Arkansas on Monday, then into Missouri, Illinois and the Great Lakes on Tuesday, and ultimately into Canada by Wednesday, intensifying some as it merges with a mid-latitude storm system.
Heavy “rain will move up the Lower and Mid Mississippi Valley Monday into Tuesday, then across the Upper Mississippi Valley and Northern Plains Tuesday and Tuesday night. Flash flooding, and new and renewed significant river flooding is possible,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.
The National Weather Service forecast office in La Crosse, Wis., tweeted that Cristobal’s remnants could track farther west across Wisconsin than any other post-tropical system on record.
The Hurricane Center was predicting widespread rainfall totals of four to eight inches in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, with isolated amounts of up to a foot. This zone, under a “high risk” of flash flooding, includes New Orleans where about 2.5 of rain had fallen since Saturday. Biloxi, Miss. had received nearly 7 inches.
Early Sunday evening, some of the heaviest rain, up to 1 to 2 inches per hour, was falling around Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, which was under a flash flood warning until 8:30 p.m. eastern.
The National Weather Service office serving southeastern Louisiana wrote that “extreme rainfall flooding may prompt numerous evacuations and rescues” and that “rivers and tributaries may overwhelmingly overflow their banks.”
Numerous flood warnings were in effect for area rivers.
Through much of the day, some of the storm’s heaviest rainfall concentrated in the Florida Panhandle between Tallahassee and Jacksonville Sunday with rainfall totals of 6 to 10 inches.
After Sunday, widespread rainfall amounts of two to four inches, with some higher totals, are predicted along the storm’s path as it lifts north through the Mississippi Valley toward the Great Lakes with continued flooding risks.
The Hurricane Center was predicting the worst surge, up to three to five feet of water over normally dry land, near and just to the east of where Cristobal makes landfall. It included the zone from southeastern Louisiana to coastal Mississippi, where it warned that high water could damage marinas and shoreline buildings, flood roads, and cause major beach erosion.
Because of its system of protective levees and flood walls, known as the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, storm surge flooding was not expected in New Orleans. But a dangerous surge was predicted outside of it.
Tide gauges in Shell Beach in southeastern Louisiana and Waveland in coastal Mississippi had already recorded a surge over 5 feet through Sunday afternoon and the storm’s slow forward speed was prolonging flooding.
Social media Sunday morning and afternoon showed high water and areas of inundation from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
Due to Cristobal’s large circulation, coastal flooding due to surge was a possibility over a large area far from the storm center, as far southeast as coastal southwestern Florida on Sunday, until the storm moves inland.
Tropical weather systems making landfall often spawn tornadoes, and some were predicted from Cristobal as it comes ashore. A tornado watch was in effect for coastal Alabama and Mississippi through 6 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday for the “threat of a couple of tornadoes with mini supercells.”
Social media showed photos of a waterspout, a tornado over water, just off the coast of Gulf Shores, Ala., on Sunday morning:
In addition several tornado warnings were issued for parts of the northern Florida Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, a damaging tornado associated with the storm’s outer circulation touched down in the Orlando area. The EF-1 rated twister unleashed winds over 100 mph and damaged buildings and homes southeast of the city, displacing up to 50 residents according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Before entering the gulf, the storm pinwheeled for days in Central America, unloading feet of rainfall in some areas. Ocotepec, a city in Mexico, picked up a measured 26.9 inches between May 31 and Thursday — the bulk of which fell between Tuesday and Thursday. On Friday, the community probably saw another two to three inches.
Xpujil, a town in Mexico, recorded 23.5 inches during the same period, while Hopelchén saw 23.1 inches.
It’s likely that some more remote areas received as much as 30 to 35 inches of rainfall. Potent flooding and mudslides struck El Salvador, where at least 27 died, while excessive rains resulted in multiple fatalities in Guatemala.
On Tuesday, the storm set a record as the earliest third-named tropical storm or hurricane in any Atlantic hurricane season to date.
When it comes ashore, it will become the second earliest landfalling tropical storm on record in Louisiana.
Matthew Cappucci contributed to this report.