U.S. Gulf coast should watch for possible storm-NHC

MIAMI Thu Sep 1, 2011 10:47am EDT

MIAMI (Reuters) - A low-pressure system pushing northwest through the Gulf of Mexico has a strong chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days and threatening U.S. states on northern coast of the gulf, the National Hurricane Center said on Thursday.

The system, now over the central part of the gulf, already has prompted some major international oil companies to evacuate workers from offshore oil platforms.

The Miami-based hurricane center said the low pressure area was producing a large area of clouds, thunderstorms and gusty winds as it headed slowly to the northwest.

"This system has a high chance ... 70 percent ... of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours ... Interests along the entire northern Gulf of Mexico coast should monitor the progress of this disturbance," the NHC said.

Some computer models showed the developing system, which would be called Lee if it became a tropical storm, could pass over the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Lee will be the 12th named storm of the busy 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

Texas is in the grip of a severe drought and rains from the developing weather system could bring some relief.

Meanwhile, still far east out over the Atlantic, Hurricane Katia formed late on Wednesday and was churning west with winds of 75 miles per hour (120 km per hour) but posing no immediate threat to land.

At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), Katia was located about 1,065 miles (1,710 km) east of the Caribbean's Leeward Islands.

After Hurricane Irene rampaged up the U.S. East Coast over the weekend, killing at least 40 people, authorities on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard are monitoring Katia to see which path it takes.

The NHC forecast shows Katia becoming a major hurricane by the weekend but sees its center missing the Caribbean islands on its northwestward track. Forecasters say it is still too early to say with certainty that the hurricane poses no threat to the U.S. eastern seaboard.

However, some long-range computer models, which can be off by hundreds of miles (kilometres), show Katia eventually swinging north toward the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda, away from the U.S. coast.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically brings 11 or 12 named storms. Katia is already the 11th and with half of the season still ahead, it is shaping up to be the unusually busy year that was predicted. (Additional reporting by Erwin Seba and Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Bill Trott)

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