Tropical Storm Karen weakens but remains a threat to the Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Karen weakened Friday but it is still heading toward the north Gulf Coast with strong winds and heavy rain.

Despite the weakening for now, the National Hurricane Center kept hurricane and tropical storm watches along the stretch of coast from Louisiana to the Panhandle.

In South Florida, heavy rain caused in part by Tropical Storm Karen caused significant flooding Wednesday. The worst is over, with a weekend forecast calling for partly skies with a 20 percent chance of rain Saturday.

Friday afternoon, Tropical Storm Karen was 250 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, traveling at 10 miles-per-hour with sustained winds of 50 mph and thunderstorms in the northern and eastern parts of the storm.

Although the storm lost a bit of power Friday, forecasters believe is could regain speed as it nears the coast.

Precisely where and when the storm hits depends on when it makes its forecasted northeast turn. When that turn will happen is difficult to predict because it will be determined by surrounding weather patterns traveling south over Eastern Texas and Northern Louisiana.

State and federal agencies prepared for Karen on Friday.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for 18 Panhandle counties. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also declared a state of emergency. Alabama officials warned people to stay clear of the surf along the coast.

In Washington, during the third day of the government shutdown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recalled furloughed workers to help prepare for Karen.

Florida National Guard officials worried that the shutdown will affect their ability to be ready if the Guard is needed for storm preparation or recovery. About half of its 2,000 full-time federal employees were furloughed.

Karen could hit the southeastern Louisiana coast as early as Saturday morning. The mayor of Grand Isle Louisiana ordered a mandatory evacuation Friday afternoon.

The storm could turn as far east as the Florida Panhandle, sending storm surge as far as Apalacha Bay.

Whether it remains a Tropical Storm or a Hurricane, Karen will bring strong winds, heavy rain and the threat of flooding.

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