* Storm's top wind speeds drop to 35 mph
* Little change in strength forecast before landfall
* Storm still a rainmaker but poses little threat
By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Oct 5 Tropical Storm Karen weakened
to a depression as it hovered off the Louisiana coast on
Saturday after earlier fears it would reach hurricane strength
prompted the evacuation of some coastal areas and disrupted U.S.
energy output in the Gulf of Mexico.
Karen's top sustained winds dropped to 35 mph (55 kph) on
Saturday night. That was down from 65 mph (105 kph) on Thursday
and 50 mph (80 kph) on Friday, and National Hurricane Center
forecasters in Miami said Karen had lost its status as a
"All tropical storm warnings have been discontinued," the
center said in an advisory. "There are no coastal tropical storm
warnings or watches in effect."
Dry air and wind shear had been tearing the storm apart all
day, even as it threatened to draw renewed strength from warm
sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf.
Karen was originally forecast to become a hurricane, and
authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying
areas south of New Orleans on Friday.
Tropical storms carry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph (63 kph to
The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama
had earlier declared states of emergency to speed storm
preparations, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency
recalled some workers who were furloughed in the federal
government shutdown to assist.
Nearly two-thirds of oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico
was halted as Karen neared the Louisiana coast earlier this
week, prompting oil and gas companies to shut platforms and
evacuate workers in preparation for the storm. The Gulf accounts
for about 19 percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent of
natural gas output.
By late Saturday night, the slow-moving storm was centered
about 185 miles (295 km) southwest of the mouth of the
Mississippi River. On its projected path, Karen was likely to
move over the southeast tip of Louisiana early on Sunday before
skirting the coasts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle on
Sunday night and Monday.
The storm could dump up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain on some
areas of the central Gulf Coast and Southeastern states through
Monday before breaking up entirely, the hurricane center said.