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Tropical storm could drench Gulf Coast

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

What's only a tropical disturbance over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula could turn into Tropical Storm Fernand on Friday or during the weekend, according to a forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

As of late Thursday, the hurricane center was giving the disturbance a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or a tropical storm. A storm gets a name when its sustained wind reaches 39 mph.

Whether or not it becomes a named storm, heavy rain is likely this weekend somewhere along the northern Gulf Coast, said hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

Although there are still many paths the disturbance could take, a path into the central Gulf Coast appears to be the most likely route, said AccuWeather meteorologist Courtney Spamer. “This puts locations between central Louisiana east to the Florida Panhandle most at risk.”

The storm could then stall over the already sodden Southeast and lead to additional flooding, she added. The flood threat will likely be greatest from the Florida Panhandle into parts of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas, said Weather Channel meteorologist Jon Erdman.

“Regardless of its development, we expect heavy rain with the tropical system,” said Jason Beaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile. “And we don't need any rain at all right now.”

Florida just endured its wettest July on record, the National Climatic Data Center reported, while Alabama and Georgia had their fourth-wettest Julys.

Wind and high surf will likely be an issue all along the Gulf Coast: In Florida, Pensacola Beach safety officials expect red flags to fly at the beach by Saturday morning and through the weekend.

Dave Greenwood, water safety supervisor at Pensacola Beach, predicts the surf will be about 8 feet Saturday and Sunday. “We're going to move our lifeguard towers back from the water because the water lines will increase,” he said.

If it becomes Fernand, it would be the sixth named storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. So far, none of the storms has become a hurricane.

Meanwhile, more than 3,500 miles away in the eastern Atlantic, Tropical Storm Erin formed. As of midday Thursday, the hurricane center reported that the storm had wind of 40 mph and was moving to the west-northwest at 15 mph.

Erin should gather some strength over the next few days, Feltgen says, but some drier air and cooler sea-surface temperatures could stall its development after that.

“We have plenty of time to watch it,” Feltgen adds.

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