Tropical Storm Lee became the twelfth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season after it developed on September 2 in the Gulf of Mexico, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of the Louisiana coastline. Lee subsequently slowly drifted towards the United States coastline, bringing strong winds and heavy rain to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After meandering off Louisiana’s coast for several hours, Lee finally came ashore along the state’s southern coastline at around 09:00 UTC on September 4 with sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kmph), according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Tropical storm force winds extended 275 miles (445 kilometers) from the center of the system at landfall, bringing tropical storm conditions to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The NHC warned of extensive flooding and flash flooding as the storm came ashore, with up to 20 inches (510 millimeters) of rain forecast to affect communities from the central Gulf coast northward into the Tennessee Valley. A storm surge of up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) was also predicted for the Louisiana coast and there were reports of several tornado touchdowns in parts of Mississippi, Alabama and western Florida.
The slow moving storm brought very heavy rainfall to the Gulf region, as it approached and passed over the coast. This prompted the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi to declare states of emergency in advance of Lee’s landfall. The National Weather Service has recorded around 14 inches (355 millimeters) of rain in coastal areas of Mississippi since September 1. Reports said 14 inches (355 millimeters) of rain also fell in parts of Louisiana, including the city of New Orleans. However, the mayor’s office said all 24 sewerage and water board pumps were working at capacity and the city’s flood defences held, helping to prevent the huge loss of life and costly destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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According to reports, parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi reported scattered damage in coastal areas. However, no deaths have been directly attributed to Tropical Storm Lee and early reports suggest damage has been limited to localized flooding and isolated tornado damage. Around 37,000 households lost power at the height of the storm. The heavy rain caused some street flooding in parts of Louisiana, forcing around 200 families to evacuate their homes in Livingston Parish. In Mississippi, officials said flooding was reported in the state’s southernmost counties, with some homes inundated in the counties of Jackson and Harrison. Shelters were opened in both counties but officials said the uptake was limited. In Alabama, meanwhile, a possible tornado struck Mobile County, downing trees, knocking out power and damaging at least one home. Forecasters warn the storm’s remnants could still drop up to 8 inches (205 millimeters) of rain over the next couple of days as it moves through Alabama and into Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
Lee also caused some disruption to oil production in the Gulf of Mexico after moving through the center of the offshore platform region with wind gusts of up to 60 mph (100 kmph). According to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 237 oil and gas production platforms and 23 drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated because of the severe weather associated with Lee. In addition, about 60 percent of oil production in the Gulf and almost 55 percent of natural gas production was also temporarily shut down. However, there have been no early reports of damage to the rigs and platforms and production is expected to resume shortly.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, BBC News
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