Tropical Storm Karen was poised to become the first named storm to hit the U.S. during what had been a relatively quiet hurricane season.
Meteorologists say they expect the storm to affect Carolinas weather in several days.
The storm, which had been expected to form, has top sustained winds of 65 mph and could become a hurricane by Friday as it moves northward toward the Gulf Coast.
Its not often that one sees a new storm start out with 60 mph winds, but that is what an Air Force hurricane hunter plane found (Thursday) morning, said meteorologist Jeff Masters of the weather website Weather Underground.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Friday that Karen was about 295 miles (470 kilometers) south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).
The storm's maximum sustained winds decreased slightly to 60 mph (95 kph) with the U.S. National Hurricane Center saying little change in strength was expected Friday. But forecasters said some strengthening was possible Saturday, when the storm's center would be near the coast.
A hurricane watch is in effect from the Florida panhandle westward to Grand Isle, La., and a tropical storm warning is in effect for the New Orleans area.
Landfall is expected early Sunday, probably near the Alabama-Florida border.
After that, the storm is predicted to merge with a cold front and push rapidly northeast, across Georgia and the Carolinas.
The exact track of the dying tropical storm will have a big role in determining which part of the Carolinas sees the worst of the weather.
Jeff Taylor of the National Weather Services office in Greer, S.C., said Thursday that the official forecast track from the National Hurricane Center takes Karen across the western Carolinas. That would put Charlotte in the area of heaviest rain.
Its too early to know exactly what track the system will take, Taylor said. But its safe to assume that rain will arrive in Charlotte early Monday and continue into the early afternoon hours.
Areas to the east of dying tropical systems are at risk of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, and Taylor said that will be a possibility. But its far too early to talk about specifics on that, he said.
There is a significant west-east spread in the tracks, said Michael Brennan of the National Hurricane Center.
Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist at WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner, said the remnants of Karen could be moving fast enough to prevent excessive rainfall in the area. This could turn out to be much-needed rain, he said, referring to dry conditions for the past six or seven weeks.
Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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