Tropical Storm Karen was downgraded to depression status after it weakened and lost speed and power off the Louisiana Coast Saturday night, said the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Originally forecast to build into a hurricane before making landfall, Karen caused mandatory evacuations of low-lying coastal areas in southern Louisiana and halted most oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.
Still hovering in the Gulf, Karen’s wind speed decreased to 35 mph late Saturday after reaching speeds of 65 mph earlier in the week. To qualify as a tropical storm, a storm system has to have winds from 39 mph to 73 mph, and the decreased power of Karen’s top sustained winds prompted the downgrade by weather forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. The Center released an advisory ending the previous alarm, saying “All tropical storm warnings have been discontinued. There are no coastal tropical storm warnings or watches in effect.”
According to the National Weather Service, the storm was holding in place Saturday evening, about 170 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. The weakened tropical depression formerly known as Tropical Storm Karen was expected to move toward the southeast coast of Louisiana Sunday, possibly making landfall before moving to the east and eventually dissipating into a remnant after the weekend.
Previously, in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the governors had declared a state of emergency. Workers who had been furloughed due to Republican shutdown of the federal government were even recalled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In New Orleans, authorities continued to prepare, but were cautiously optimistic about resuming maritime traffic on Sunday. Vessels had been halted at the Mississippi’s mouth since early Friday. Delayed cruise ships were expected to arrive Monday.
Still, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remained busy, closing the barriers intend to keep any storm surge from breaching the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic flooding that affected the area during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Some coastal areas south of New Orleans remained under mandatory evacuation, amid fears that the weakened yet still powerful storm could cause 1-to-3 foot storm surges and heavy rainfall of 3 to 6 inches. For one barrier island town under orders to evacuate, Grand Isle, there were fears of flooding that would swamp over the only road leading in and out from the mainland.
“We’re going to have 35 to 45 mph winds probably starting by tomorrow morning,” the town’s mayor, David Camardelle, told CBS News on Saturday.
Grand Isle was not the only flood-prone town still feeling the effects. In Lafitte, Louisiana, for example, workers were caught in rainy squalls while trying to protect the area with sandbags. However, with the downgrade from tropical storm status, Lafitte Mayor Timothy Kerner believed the bayou town would be alright.
“We have a high tide, but we only have another 15-17 hours to worry about, and I don’t think the tide will come up much more in that time,” said Kerner. “It looks like it might come up another foot or two, but I think we’re going to be OK.”
Disruptions to regional energy output had already affected oil and gas companies before Karen’s downgrade. The threat of the storm had halted two thirds of all production by oil platforms in the area.
Wind shear and dry air were cited as the reasons for Tropical Storm Karen’s weakened state as it became a depression.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing