Tropical Storm Claudette Forms in the Gulf of Mexico

The region, which was hit repeatedly in 2020, braced for heavy rains through the weekend.,

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The third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, threatening to bring heavy rainfall to the region.

Tropical Storm Claudette was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans early Saturday morning, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 45 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Saturday evening and become a “post-tropical cyclone” on Sunday, but redevelop over the Western Atlantic on Monday.

Even before Claudette became a named storm, a tropical storm warning had been issued for the New Orleans area and several regions eastward into Florida.

Several inches of rain, up to 15 inches in some isolated areas, was forecast along the Central Gulf Coast. Flooding was also a concern, the hurricane center said, adding that a combination of storm surge and the tide would cause normally dry areas near the coast to flood.

There was also a threat of tornadoes in portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia on Saturday.

While the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is just getting underway, many residents along the Gulf Coast are still recovering from a string of storms that battered the region last summer and fall.

Seven named storms thrashed the Gulf Coast in 2020, including Eta, which slammed Florida twice, leaving tens of thousands without electricity and flooding beach communities. Louisiana, perhaps one of the hardest-hit states, saw at least five storms, including Zeta and Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the state’s coast as a Category 4 storm with 150-mile-per-hour winds, destroying office buildings, a sky bridge, trees and power lines. The storm was also responsible for at least six deaths in the state.

In late May, a subtropical storm named Ana developed northeast of Bermuda, becoming the first named storm of the current hurricane season. It was the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1. Ana was followed by Bill, which formed hundreds of miles off the coast of North Carolina earlier this week and became a tropical storm before being downgraded as it remained at sea.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic.

Last year there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters. It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

Hurricanes have become increasingly dangerous and destructive with each passing season. Researchers have found that climate change has produced storms that are more powerful and have heavier rainfall. The storms also have a tendency to dawdle and meander. A combination of rising seas and slower storms also make for higher and more destructive storm surges.

Mike Ives contributed reporting.

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