Nate takes aim at the Gulf Coast after dousing Central America

Tropical Storm Nate roared toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early Friday morning after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 22 deaths, and forecasters said it could reach the U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.

Louisiana officials declared a state of emergency and ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of its expected landfall early Sunday, and evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Nate could cause dangerous flooding by dumping as much as 15 to 20 inches of rain as it moved over Honduras, with higher accumulations in a few places.

At 5 a.m. Friday, Nate had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Seabefore a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at near-hurricane strength. It could hit the U.S. Gulf coast near New Orleans.

While hurricane models shifted the storm solidly to the west, Florida’s Panhandle could still see some impact — at the very least from Nate’s gusty outer bands.

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Nate is being steered by a high pressure ridge over the southeastern Bahamas and central Caribbean. Over the weekend, another ridge is expected to build over the southeast U.S. coast and move the storm more to the northwest at a faster speed. Models that differed Wednesday now agree the storm will likely move more to the west.

The storm comes more than a month before the end of a record-breaking season that had been forecast to be above average. During the historical peak of the season in September, a new record was set for the highest amount of hurricane energy in a single month. The most number of hurricane days also occurred, according to Colorado State meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.

In less than 30 days, three major hurricanes formed with lethal results: Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich

The Associated Press contributed to this report.