Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday declared a state of emergency because a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico ?- with increasingly organized thunderstorm activity -- could drench the state with up to 15 inches of rain over the weekend.
The tropical depression will be called Lee if it upgrades to a tropical storm. It is currently creeping north through the Gulf. It could spur torrential rains and coastal flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Texas-Louisiana border, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.
We've got a huge area of moisture, Read said. We've got a developing wind field. We're probably going to see some tremendous rain amounts and the corresponding flooding that goes with that.
The depression was enough to prompt oil companies like Shell, Exxon Mobil and BP to shut down production. Chevron said it was evacuating non-essential workers but did not announce any cutback in production.
The current threat in the Gulf is moving through a heavy concentration of oil and gas platforms off the Louisiana coast. The area accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. oil production and 12 percent of gas, according to reports.
As of Thursday, only about 5.7 percent of oil and 2.4 percent of gas was sidelined, the government said, but those numbers are likely to increase as the storm develops.
Forecasters said the new tropical threat in the Gulf could become a powerful storm, and The Weather Channel said numerous computer models forecast this system developing into a tropical depression or tropical storm late this week.
Slow-moving tropical cyclones bring flood-inducing rainfall, and the disturbance that looms over the Gulf should fall into that category, according to The Weather Channel.
Tropical cyclones form tropical storms when winds exceed 39 miles per hour (63 kilometers per hour). They turn into hurricanes when winds top 74 miles per hour. Lee would be the 12th named storm of the busy 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.
Texas is currently in a severe drought and rains from the developing weather system could bring some relief.