In what looks to be improving news for the Columbus area, the National Hurricane Center has now shifted the overall track of what has become Tropical Storm Nate to a Sunday morning landfall farther west on the Gulf Coast.
On Wednesday, the Miami, Fla.-based center, based on early computer models, was expecting the storm’s center to arrive just west of Panama City Beach in Florida.
The 5 p.m. Thursday update by the center now shows Nate becoming a low-end hurricane Saturday in the Gulf of Mexico before reaching the U.S. coast in Louisiana, just southeast of New Orleans, early Sunday. From there, the current probability strike cone has the storm moving northeast near Biloxi, Miss., then through Alabama toward Birmingham, and finally northward into east Tennessee, dropping in intensity as it moves inland and eventually flows toward the Northeastern U.S.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency due to Nate starting 7 a.m. Friday, citing the prospects of heavy winds, storm surge and torrential rainfall.
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“I have signed the state of emergency because it frees up personnel and resources in case there is a need to respond to any storm related activity,” Ivey said. “State and local leaders are ready to respond if needed, but our people need to stay weather-aware and heed any directions given by local officials.”
The Columbus area, however, is no longer inside the hurricane center’s probability cone, although Auburn and Opelika, Ala., and LaGrange, Ga., to the north currently are in its eastern boundary. But that still means Columbus residents could experience significant rainfall and gusty winds, including thunderstorms, due to rain bands that are likely to be rotating outside of the center of Nate.
Most of Alabama and north Georgia, including Atlanta and its international airport, remain in the cone of potential storm weather, as do western portions of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Tropical Storm Nate, which formed as a depression Wednesday in the western Caribbean Sea, at the moment is projected to move north-northwest across the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, which includes the popular vacation spots Cancun and Cozumel, Friday evening. At some point Saturday, it is expected to reach hurricane status, which would be 74 mph or higher sustained winds near its center rotation.
The National Weather Service now is forecasting an increasing chance of rain in the Columbus area starting Saturday afternoon and evening, with showers and possible thunderstorms anticipated Sunday. The weather service says “tropical storm conditions” are possible Sunday night, with a good chance of rain, including thunderstorms, lingering through Monday, which is Columbus Day.