Karen, the 11th named storm this season, formed this morning as hurricane hunters found a closed circulation center and winds at 60 mph. Since the initial advisory at 8am, winds have increased to 65 mph as of the 10am advisory. Karen is moving north-northwestward and will continue to move northward through the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall Saturday or Sunday as a tropical storm or category 1 hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a Hurricane Watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana to Indian Pass, Florida, including the entire Mississippi and Alabama coastlines. The center line of the forecast cone from the Hurricane Center has Karen making landfall near Mobile Bay Saturday evening/Sunday morning.
There are two main questions with Karen: strength and intensity. Karen is currently experiencing some wind shear in its environment. This shear has moved most of the thunderstorm activity of Karen to its eastern side. As the storm approaches the coast, wind shear will increase thanks to a trough in the jet stream interacting with the cyclone, which will probably keep Karen asymmetric...most of the activity on the eastern side instead of evenly around the center. The track of Karen, while wide is possibility, is actually small this far out and will depend on its intensity. If Karen is able to become a stronger system, a hurricane, it will most likely track further to the east and make landfall near the Alabama/Florida line. If the storm is weaker, its currently intensity or weaker, it will head further west and make landfall most likely along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Obviously for us locally, a most eastern track would be preferred as we would receive little to no impacts from Karen. However, given the shear Karen is experiencing and forecast to experience, a more westward track is most likely. This means that we could see rainfall from Karen and potentially severe weather from a landfalling tropical system, provided we are on the eastern side of the storm.
As of now, there are more questions than answers in regards to Karen's strength and exact track. Travel to the Gulf Coast this weekend from Florida to Louisiana is not advised. While we should have minimal impacts from Karen, I cannot stress enough to remain weather aware heading into the weekend. This system should not be anything disastrous, but a landfalling tropical system can still provide plenty of problems even miles away from its center.
Jeff, Will, and I will keep you updated through the weekend. Remember, the latest tropical information is available at wtok.com/weather/hurricane and on our Hurricane Tracker App for Apple Devices. Both of which are free.