ORLANDO, Fla. — The area of disturbed weather in the Gulf of Mexico is not yet Tropical Storm Barry, but the system is expected to strengthen into Hurricane Barry by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday evening.

The slow-moving storm is expected to dump as much as 18 inches of rain along the central Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi Valley, which could cause a “dangerous” storm surge in the coming days. Storm surge, tropical storm and hurricane watches were put into effect Wednesday evening for much of the Louisiana coast as meteorologists expect the developing tropical system to grow stronger.

“Reports from an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds are near 30 mph with higher gusts,” the hurricane center said in its 5 p.m. EDT update. “Strengthening is forecast during the next 72 hours, and the disturbance is forecast to become a tropical depression Thursday morning, a tropical storm Thursday night, and a hurricane on Friday.”

Winds only need to increase to 39 mph for the system to become Tropical Storm Barry.

At 5 p.m., the system was located about 125 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving west-southwest at 8 mph, forecasters said. A Tropical Storm Watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area generally within 48 hours.

While it appears the hurricane-to-be will impact Louisiana or Texas, based on forecast models, the hurricane center is cautioning residents along the Gulf Coast to keep an eye on the strengthening storm.

“Interests elsewhere along the U.S. Gulf Coast from the Upper Texas Coast to the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system,” hurricane center forecasters said. “Additional Tropical Storm or Hurricane watches could be issued later today or tonight west of Morgan City.”

“I don’t expect this to have any effect on Florida,” said WOFL-TV meteorologist Jayme King. “As this thing moves west, it’s going to keep growing stronger, but we’ll see no increase in wind … The weekend forecast (in Central Florida) looks pretty typical, it starts with sunshine, and ends with a few storms.”

King predicts the system will become a depression by Thursday morning, and possibly a tropical storm by Thursday afternoon.

“Regardless of the eventual track and intensity of the system, heavy rainfall is expected from the Florida Panhandle to the upper Texas coast, extending inland across portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley, much of Louisiana and eastern Texas,” meteorologists said.

The National Weather Service also predicts the disturbance, as it develops, will have little effect over Central Florida.

“We’ll be experiencing the same weather pattern we’ve seen over the last several days, with moisture from the southwest flow that’s fueled quite a bit of the recent thunderstorm activity,” NWS meteorologist Tony Cristaldi said. “We’ll continue to have 60% rain chances in the afternoon for the next two days.”

Barry would be the second named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, following Subtropical Storm Andrea.

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