Gulf Coast on alert: Where Cristobal may make landfall in the US

"Storm surge and tropical storm watches will likely be issued for a portion of the US Gulf Coast later today," the National Hurricane Center said Friday morning.

The latest forecast track has Tropical Depression Cristobal -- the third named storm of this already active hurricane season -- moving ashore across the US Gulf Coast as soon as Sunday afternoon or night anywhere from East Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

"It looks like flooding will be the greatest threat from the storm and could occur over a wide area from Texas to Florida," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. "It could produce widespread heavy rain associated directly from the storm and from a lot of tropical moisture that is already funneling into places like Florida."

"The highest winds, greatest storm surge and heaviest rain may occur east of where Cristobal makes landfall, so not only is the Louisiana coast at risk but also Mississippi, Alabama and well into the Florida Panhandle," he added.

As of 5 a.m. ET Friday, Cristobal had winds of 35 mph and gusts of 45 mph and was moving to the north-northeast at 7 mph as it treks north from the Yucatan Peninsula. The current forecast has Cristobal gradually strengthening back into a tropical storm as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico.

"If the center can maintain some structure, then it will allow the storm to quickly strengthen once it reemerges into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend," CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

A storm that's more intact will have a better chance of intensifying, or maintaining its strength, than a weak and ragged one.

But even then, more factors play into the intensity.

"There appears to be some limiting factors in advance of the storm to keep it from intensifying into a hurricane, with wind shear and expected dry air that the storm will entrain," Hennen said, explaining why he's skeptical the storm will strengthen significantly.

If the storm picks up speed and doesn't linger along the US coast, the flooding risk will drop.

Cristobal already has produced deadly flooding in Mexico. Portions of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador could get another 10 to 15 inches of rain through Friday, bringing the rain total since Saturday to near 35 inches.

The rainfall will continue to bring dangerous flash flooding and mudslides to the region. As the storm pulls away from the Mexican coast, the rain will subside.

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