In Washington, the White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was recalling some workers furloughed due to the government shutdown to prepare for the storm.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Karen was about 400 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River late yesterday afternoon and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph with higher gusts. The storm was moving north-northwest at 12 mph.
It could be at or near hurricane strength late today and early tomorrow, forecasters said.
In Mexico’s Caribbean coast state of Quintana, the brief passage of Karen before the storm moved north caused authorities to close seaports and some schools, but little rain was actually reported.
A few fishing camps and small hamlets along the coast were ordered evacuated late Wednesday, and some boat services were suspended for the estimated 35,000 tourists currently in Cancun. But the head of the Cancun Hotel Association, Roberto Cintron, said tourists appeared to be taking it in stride.
While meteorologists said it was too soon to predict the storm’s ultimate intensity, they said it could weaken a bit as it approaches the coast over the weekend.
“Our forecast calls for it to be right around the border of a hurricane and a tropical storm,” said David Zelinsky, a hurricane center meteorologist.
Whether a weak hurricane or strong tropical storm, Karen’s effects are expected to be largely the same: Heavy rain and the potential for similar storm surge.
Forecasters say Karen is expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to portions of the central and eastern Gulf Coast through Sunday night, mainly near and to the right of the path of the center.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, whose barrier island community about 60 miles south of New Orleans is often the first to order an evacuation in the face of a tropical weather system, said the town is making sure its 10 pump stations are ready. He encouraged residents to clean out drainage culverts and ditches in anticipation of possible heavy rain and high tides.