Cristobal Threatens the Gulf Coast

After dumping feet of rain on portions of southern Mexico and Central America, Cristobal is now starting to take aim on the Gulf Coast.

Cristobal is become a little better organized this afternoon. Loop provided by NOAA.

Early Friday afternoon, Cristobal had strengthened back into a Tropical Storm and was located about 35 miles south-southeast of Merida, Mexico, moving toward the north at 12 mph. Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 40 mph. Cristobal should continue moving toward the north, with the center of circulation moving back over the Gulf of Mexico later today or tonight. Once that happens, the system should strengthen a bit more.

Cristobal is a bit of a lopsided system right now, with most of the rainfall along with the strongest winds all located east of the center of the storm. While some of the rainfall will eventually rotate around to the western side of the storm, the overall structure of the system likely won’t change much over the weekend. This has important implications that we’ll get to in a little bit.

As Cristobal moves away from Mexico tonight and Saturday, some additional strengthening is expected. The waters of the Gulf are very warm, which will help the storm intensify, but the presence of dry air aloft and some wind shear will act to inhibit significant strengthening. Cristobal should strengthen a bit more on Saturday, but at this time, it does not look like it will become a hurricane before approaching the central Gulf Coast Sunday night.

Model forecasts for the track of Cristobal. Image provided by WeatherBell.

The current forecast calls for Cristobal to make landfall as a tropical storm along the coastline of Louisiana Sunday evening. A Tropical Storm Warning is already in effect for the coast of Mexico from Punta Herrero to Rio Lagartos, where tropical storm conditions are expected into Saturday. A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued from Intracoastal City, Louisiana to the Alabama/Florida border, including Lakes Ponchatrain and Maurepas. A Storm Surge Watch has also been issued from Grand Isle, Louisiana to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, including Lake Borgne, and also along the coast of Florida from Indian Pass to Arepika.

As we mentioned earlier, Cristobal is a bit lopsided, and this should still be the case as the storm moves inland Sunday night. That’s not to say that areas west of the center will escape without issues, but they shouldn’t be as problematic. There will still be some heavy rain, and wind gusts to 30-40 mph, but this isn’t anything the region hasn’t experienced plenty of times before. Near and east of the center are where the problems will become more numerous.

Storm surge of 2-4 feet is expected along parts of the Gulf Coast as Cristobal moves inland. Image provided by the National Hurricane Center.

Cristobal should have sustained winds of 50-60 mph near the center at landfall, but these winds will only be experienced over a small area along the coast. The remainder of the area will likely have sustained winds of 30-40 mph, with some gusts to 50-60 mph. Along the coast, a storm surge of 2-4 feet will result in flooding of some areas, especially the low-lying locations near the Mississippi River entrance. By far, the biggest threat is heavy rain.

GFS forecast for rainfall from Saturday through Tuesday morning across the Gulf Coast, Image provided by WeatherBell.

Rainfall totals of 4-8 inches are expected across a wide area, with isolated totals to 12 inches possible. This will lead to flooding across much of the region. Flood watches have already been issued. Parts of the Gulf Coast have actually been in a drought recently, but too much rain in a short period isn’t a good thing. Once inland, Cristobal should weaken and head northward, bringing heavy rain to parts of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes early next week.

Tropical Depression Three formed in the Bay of Campeche Monday afternoon and strengthened into Tropical Storm Cristobal Tuesday afternoon. It made landfall along the coast of Mexico Wednesday morning, and has been drifting around southeastern Mexico and Guatemala for the past 48 hours. Cristobal has produced torrential rainfall, with 15-25 inches of rain reported across much of the region, resulting in widespread flooding. Another 3-6 inches of rain, possibly more, is expected across this region before the system pulls away over the weekend.

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