ORLANDO, Fla. - Tropical Storm Karen formed Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico, prompting a hurricane watch from Louisiana to Florida.
The storm was about 340 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and already had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. Karen was moving north-northwest at 10 mph and could be at or near hurricane strength by Friday.
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday issued a state of emergency in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Gulf, Calhoun, Jackson, Franklin, Liberty, Gadsden, Wakulla, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor Counties.
Computer models currently show the storm tracking north and not directly threatening Central Florida.
"Landfall in the coming days will be anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle," Local 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges said. "Central Florida will see some of that overspreading moisture and cloud cover, though."
The hurricane watch was in effect from Grand Isle, La., to Indian Pass in the Florida Panhandle. A tropical storm watch also was in effect for parts of the Louisiana coast west of Grand Isle, including the metro New Orleans area and Lake Pontchartrain.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, whose barrier island community about 60 miles south of New Orleans is often the first to order an evacuation in the face of a tropical weather system, said the town is making sure its 10 pump stations are ready. He is encouraging residents and clean out drainage culverts and ditches in anticipation of possible heavy rain and high tides.
Otherwise, residents were monitoring the storm and hoping to dodge the foul weather.
Zelinsky said residents in the warning areas should listen to their local emergency managers for advisories.
"Now is the time to begin making preparations," Zelinsky said.
Forecasters said a cold front approaching from the northwest was expected to turn Karen to the northeast, away from the Louisiana coast and more toward the Florida Panhandle or coastal Alabama. But the timing of the front's arrival over the weekend was uncertain.
Grand Isle suffered damage from Hurricane Isaac in August 2012. Isaac clipped the mouth of the Mississippi River for its official first landfall before meandering northwest over Grand Isle and stalling inland. Though a weak hurricane, Isaac's stall built a surge along the southeast Louisiana coast that flooded communities in neighboring Plaquemines Parish.
Karen was expected to pass over Gulf oil and gas fields from Louisiana to Alabama, but early forecasts suggested the storm would miss the massive oil import facility at Port Fourchon, La., just west of Grand Isle, and the oil refineries that line the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge.
Oil giant BP said it has begun securing offshore rigs and evacuating non-essential workers from its four company-operated production platforms in Karen's projected path.
Other oil companies were expected to take similar action.
The chance of rain increases to 30 percent for Friday through Sunday as Tropical Storm Karen moves north.
Far in the Atlantic, Jerry has weakened to a tropical depression.
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