Landfall expected Thursday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

Isidore, which has moved from tropical storm to hurricane and back to tropical storm status, may well become a hurricane again as it works its way across the Gulf and toward the Gulf Shores area. Tropical Storm Isidore moved over open waters Tuesday after killing at least 2 people and leaving more than 300,000 homeless in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

In the meantime, Tropical Storms Lili and Kyle are building strength as they move north. Tropical Storm Lili killed at least three people and ripped the roofs off homes in

St. Vincent, Barbados and St. Lucia. At 8 a.m. EDT, Lili was centered about 510 miles southeast of Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, it was moving west quickly at near 20 mph. Tropical storm force winds extended up to 125 miles.

"Possibly by late today, but more likely tomorrow, it will become a hurricane" with wind speeds of at least 74 mph, said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the Hurricane Center.

Hurricane watches were posted along the coast from Cameron, La., to Pascagoula,

Miss., and flood watches were called throughout lower Alabama. All along the coast, fishing towns are being evacuated, Navy ships have left port and businesses and schools closed early, with no plans to reopen until the threat of hurricane is over.

Officials with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency were activated Tuesday afternoon, and have been making preparations for land fall, they predict will be along the Louisiana gulf coast.

"We are pretty confident in those models that show the storm making land fall along the Louisiana coast," said Scott Adcock, spokesperson for the Alabama EMA. "But there are models that show land fall a little east and models that show land fall a little more west. These storms are always unpredictable."

Mobile and Baldwin County, along with other coastal counties in Mississippi and Louisiana, have already begun issuing evacuation orders for areas along the gulf coast.

Mobile has issued voluntary evacuation orders for Dauphin Island, while Baldwin County has made similar requests of residents in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan.

The forecast track put the eye of the storm over rural Terrebonne Parish, southeast of New Orleans, early Thursday. Storm advisories stretched from Jefferson and Orange counties in Texas to Destin, Fla.

If the storm stays on its present course, and makes land fall along the Louisiana or Mississippi coast, Alabama could catch the brunt of the storm's rain and tornado activity.

"Most of a storm's heavy rains and embedded tornadoes are located east and northeast of the eye," said Alabama EMA hurricane expert Pete McGough. "If the storms says on its present course, that area will be most of Alabama."

Ken Graham, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service, said Tuesday afternoon the track of the storm was taking the eye up through Pickens County and would eventually be in Decatur. "But keep in mind the last track had it going straight up," he said.

Moreover, the worst of the storms will be on the east side of the storm, which puts central Alabama directly in the path. "We'll get the brunt of the rain," he said.

Moreover, he said the eye could still come over into Alabama. "Each time we get a tweak on the models, it comes a little closer to us," Graham said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the models show the hurricane coming into Louisiana, and then traveling into places like Laurel and Hattiesburg in Mississippi. It will then go into northwest Alabama.

The severe weather will come all day Thursday and most of Friday, Graham said. He said state residents can be braced for tornado watches and flash flooding during that period.

"I expect us to start issuing flash flood watches tomorrow morning," he said Tuesday.

With rains having come into the area already the past few days, the threat of flash flooding is more likely than normal. Normally it takes only 5.5 inches in three hours to start flash flooding, but at the moment it would take only 2.5 inches in three hours. "We'll have that with this system," he said.

Officials with the EMA urge residents to not panic, saying the winds associated with a tropical system like Isidore will quickly diminish once it makes land fall.

"We want to make sure residents make early preparations as if they would for any large thunderstorm," McGough said. "Make sure they have batteries and non perishable food items. These are items that many people should keep at all times but when a storm like this comes along, it is always a good time to double check and stock up."

Local EMA officials ask residents to stay tuned to local television and radio broadcasts for the latest weather warnings and predictions.