As the United States still recovers from three devastating hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — yet another tropical cyclone is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to male landfall as a hurricane on Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center. This map of Tropical Storm Nate's path shows that previously hurricane-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast should brace themselves for yet another storm. What was previously classified as Tropical Depression 16 became the 14th-named storm of the 2017 hurricane season early Thursday morning, making the season one of the top 10 most active hurricane seasons, according to The Weather Channel.
Tropical Storm Nate formed off the coast of Nicaragua. As of Thursday morning, Nate has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and is slowly moving northwest at just 8 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The current hurricane cone — an area of Tropical Storm Nate's probable path based off of several forecasting models — shows that the storm could make landfall on Sunday anywhere between the southernmost areas of Louisiana that extend into the Gulf of Mexico to Mississippi, Alabama, and even parts of the Florida panhandle. As Hurricane Irma revealed, the storm's path could shift, so it's important that Gulf Coast residents start preparing now.
Just as with Irma and Harvey, there's a chance that Nate could take a slight dip in intensity as it passes over part of Mexico, but some meteorologists are saying that Tropical Storm Nate could become a Category 2 hurricane by the weekend once it heads back out over the open and very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico — which would obviously spell trouble for the already storm-battered Gulf Coast region during what has been an exhausting and expensive hurricane season.
While the hurricane cone gives a broad view, this map of Tropical Storm Nate's probable paths based on individual weather models shows just why hurricane cones can be so uncertain: One model (the one in dark green below) shows Nate taking a hard westerly turn over Mexico before making a loop over the southeastern United States, then briefly out over the Atlantic Ocean, across Florida, and then back over the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, that model is an outlier from a field of models that seem to agree (so far) that New Orleans, Louisiana is a likely target. Again, all of this can change over the next few days, and as Nate approaches land, even hour by hour.
Even 12 years after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out New Orleans, the sea-level city still struggles with flooding and rising sea levels. During the 2017 hurricane season, New Orleans was largely spared the worst of Hurricane Harvey as that storm tracked further west, causing devastating flooding in Houston. The city also narrowly missed the worst of Hurricane Irma when the Category 4 hurricane took a path further west than forecasted, catching Florida's Gulf Coast communities by surprise with little time to properly evacuate, despite repeated warnings from Gov. Rick Scott.
So what does Tropical Storm Nate's path mean for New Orleans? Right now, it's just still too early too tell — but certainly not too early for residents to begin making hurricane preparations.
As tempting as it can be for people living in Tropical Storm Nate's wide path of uncertainty to write off the storm, this year's hurricane season has proven that heeding advance warnings to prepare or evacuate could be a matter of life and death. After Houston failed to issue mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Harvey, the Texas city was deluged by historic flooding not seen in the last 1,000 years. This prompted such a strong — and ultimately warranted — preemptive response by Florida in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, resulting in one of the largest mandatory evacuations in American history.
What this all means for the people living along the Gulf Coast will largely depend on just how much Tropical Storm Nate intensifies over the next few days.
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