Residents from Florida to Texas braced Tuesday night for the expected arrival of Tropical Storm Cindy, which threatened to bring high winds and as much as a foot of rain to a large area of Louisiana.
Local leaders and residents living in flood-prone areas began the usual rituals involved in preparing for tropical weather.
Officials across the southern part of the state assured residents that they were in constant contact with the National Weather Service. Equipment and personnel were staged near vulnerable areas, and sandbags were handed out.
Cindy, which had top winds of 45 mph Tuesday evening, appeared unlikely to strengthen into even a minimal hurricane. It appeared to be on a path to strike somewhere near the Louisiana-Texas border, but that path remained unpredictable.
The National Hurricane Center described it as "meandering over the central Gulf" at a speed that was "nearly stationary." It was expected to pick up the pace before eventually making a turn to the north Wednesday.
Throughout the day Tuesday, forecasters revised the projected track westward, from a landfall on the central Louisiana coast to one close to the mouth of the Sabine River.
That westward movement also brought additional areas under a tropical storm warning, which stretched from the mouth of the Pearl River, or the Louisiana-Mississippi border, in the east to San Luis Pass, near Galveston, in the west.
But forecasters warned that paying too much attention to the storm's potential path, or even the wider "cone," could cause a false sense of security. Tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain stretched as much as 205 miles to the north and east from the center of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center, leaving much of southeastern Louisiana in the danger zone.
Many areas were told to expect 6-9 inches of rain, with some likely to get as much as 12 or even 15 inches, between Tuesday and Thursday evening. The rainfall could produce "life-threatening flash flooding" across portions of Louisiana, the Weather Service said.
Farther to the west, the storm is likely to bring 3-5 inches of rain.
Along the coast, tides were expected to be up to 3 feet above normal.
Cities and parishes across the state prepared for the expected deluge. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents to use common sense and said officials had made sure pumping stations were ready to operate around the clock.
“This event is deceptive because we’re outside the cone, but it could still have a significant impact,” Landrieu said at a news conference with other officials Tuesday morning.
Government offices and schools across the metro area said they would close Wednesday and in many cases Thursday as well, and numerous scheduled events were canceled.
Tropical Storm Cindy made landfall in southwest Louisiana early Thursday.
Jefferson Parish said that mobile pump trucks had been staged in Lafitte, which is outside the federal levee system.
The parish also planned to partially activate its Emergency Operations Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle urged residents to be aware of the danger and to move vehicles to higher ground, but he said the city had not decided to order an evacuation.
"If anyone wants to leave Grand Isle due to the weather, we are asking that they do so at the earliest time due to high water being on La. 1 in low areas," Camardelle said. A levee at the island's western end that partially washed out in April had been fortified, he said.
Around Baton Rouge, residents and officials — many still in the midst of recovery efforts after August's devastating floods — wearily prepared for the possibility of more flooding.
Livingston Parish, which was especially hard hit in August, had distributed 12,000 sand bags at 21 locations across the parish by mid-Tuesday, according to Mark Harrell, the parish's director of homeland security and emergency preparedness.
Other parishes, such as Ascension, St. James and Assumption, were also distributing sand bags, checking pump stations and encouraging residents to clear any debris from canals and ditches.
State and federal officials also got involved. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that FEMA had sent 125,000 meals and 200,000 liters of water to the state.
The storm's slow-moving track has invited comparisons to some previous storms, including last year's unnamed storm that caused August's floods near Baton Rouge.
However, those two storms are different and shouldn't be compared, according to NWS meteorologist Michael Hill.
Officials urged common sense and preparedness ahead of a potential tropical storm that could…
"Storms are different; things are different," he said, noting that the storm that caused the flooding was tropical but had not achieved tropical storm status. Cindy also has a "different angle of attack," he said.
Other comparisons, such as to Hurricane Cindy in 2005, which knocked down trees all over New Orleans and cut power to more than 250,000 residences in Louisiana, or Tropical Storm Allison, which hit in 2001, also fail to offer meaningful insight, Hill said.
"Every storm is different," he said.
With this storm, the key will be where the rain bands form. Those areas will experience the hardest and most torrential downpours and will likely be the areas where the most flooding will occur.
The bands also will be where one of the most terrifying dangers of a tropical storm may occur: tornadoes, which are fairly common in such storms.
"There is a threat of tornadoes especially going into tonight through Thursday and then to the northeast," Hill said Tuesday.