A hurricane watch was issued for parts of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts Thursday night as Nate, barely a tropical storm as of late Thursday night, is expected to strengthen and move north.
The hurricane watch includes the New Orleans metro area, an area vulnerable to flooding.
Nate is packing top sustained winds of 40 MPH, which is barely enough to be considered a tropical storm. As Nate moves away from the Central American coast, it will enter the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Before entering the Gulf of Mexico, Nate is expected to hit the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula as a strong tropical storm on Friday. Nate is then expected to race across the Gulf of Mexico, striking the Central Gulf Coast as a hurricane by Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center said late Thursday that the hurricane should gradually strengthen over the next few days. Although not officially expected to make landfall as a major hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said it could not rule out rapid intensification.
The National Hurricane Center said that an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft will be investigating Nate overnight to get a better handle on the storm's intensity and structure.
"Nate is forecast to reach the northern Gulf Coast this weekend as a hurricane, and the threat of direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall is increasing from Louisiana through the western Florida Panhandle," the National Hurricane Center said.
Nate could be the third hurricane to make a direct landfall on the Gulf Coast. In August, Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast a Category 4 hurricane. In September, Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys as a Category 4 before coming on shore near Naples, Florida as a Category 3.