Storm warning for U.S. Gulf Coast as potential cyclone nears


The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch on Sunday for parts of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Coast as a potential tropical cyclone bringing heavy rains and strong winds was expected to hit the area this week.

What has been dubbed Potential Tropical Cyclone Seven was set to drench part of the Florida-Alabama border from Tuesday night, dropping as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in some areas of a region still reeling from hurricanes a year ago.

"This rainfall may cause flash flooding," the Miami-based NHC said. It has also issued a tropical storm watch for the New Orleans area and a flash flood watch for large parts of the Louisiana coast into the Houston area.

A storm surge watch is in effect for the Mississippi-Alabama border, westward to the mouth of the Mississippi River, officials said in an alert at 11 p.m. Sunday.

At that time, the storm was about 175 miles west of Marathon Florida, the weather service said.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Sunday he had activated the state's Crisis Action Team as a precaution.

There were no immediate indications that the storm had so far affected energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico area.

The storm now packing maximum sustained winds of 30 mph (45 kph) is expected to produce up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain in parts of the Bahamas, the Florida Keys and South Florida through early Tuesday, it said.

Wind gusts from the storm were expected to hit Florida from Monday afternoon, with Governor Rick Scott reminding people to remain vigilant.

"With the peak of hurricane season upon us, now is the time to get prepared," Scott said in a tweet on Sunday.

The disturbance will pass over the Florida Keys and emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by Monday evening, the NHC said. It is forecast to reach the central Gulf Coast by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Last year, hurricanes walloped Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.