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Harvey was upgraded to a tropical storm late Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour with higher gusts, the National Weather Center said.
The storm was moving northwest at 2 miles per hour and was expected to hit the mid-Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 75 mph winds.
Harvey is expected to bring heavy rain to southern Louisiana this weekend after making landfall in Texas.
Baton Rouge and Lafayette are expected to see an average of 6 to 10 inches of rain between late Friday and Tuesday, though those averages could double in some localized areas, meteorologist warned.
Forecasters said Harvey was expected to hit the south-central Texas coast, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane with 4 to 6 feet of storm surge, between late Friday and early Saturday, but is projected to move northeast toward Houston, Texas, and then slow down.
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While Harvey lingers in Texas, the storm could dump 10 to 15 inches, even 20 inches, on Houston, other parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, leaving Baton Rouge, Lafayette and other parts of south Louisiana to get saturated under the storm's eastern side, the National Weather Service's forecast says.
Alek Krautmann, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baton Rouge/New Orleans office in Slidell, warned that if Harvey's feeder bands set up over the region, rainfall across central and eastern parts of Louisiana could be a lot higher than the 6- to 10-inch forecast averages.
"We'll just have to see exactly where this path will take it," Krautmann said.
The National Hurricane Center also predicts at least some risk for tropical storm force winds — sustained winds greater than 39 mph — across most of the rest of the state through the weekend.
Last year's catastrophic flooding in August came from an unusual storm that was partly influenced by the tropics and partly by the kind of storm fronts that rake across the nation's mid-section. It didn't even rate a name but packed intense and at times record-breaking rainfall that surpassed 20 inches, forecasters have said.
Harvey is more in line with typical tropical activity during hurricane season. After dissipating over the Caribbean and Yucatan Peninsula and being downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical wave last weekend, Harvey reconstituted this week back into a tropical depression and continued to strengthen over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters waited Wednesday for winds to pick up so Harvey could be upgraded back to a tropical storm, while state and local officials said they were making preparations for the heavy rain and to react to possible flooding.
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness set up a crisis team on Wednesday, and Gov. John Bel Edwards was expected to be in regular contact with the National Weather Service. Conference calls began among federal, state and parish officials Wednesday, and Edwards will meet with the Unified Command Group at GOHSEP's Baton Rouge headquarters at 11 a.m.Thursday for more updates.
Mindful that last year's storm and its severe flooding caught some off guard, officials also urged the public to start their own preparations and to watch for updates on the storm's progress.
"We’re hoping people understand. This is your warning for this event. There is going to be a lot of rain," said Mike Steele, spokesman for GOHSEP.
The governor's office has encouraged residents to go to getagameplan.org and download the Get A Game Plan app for storm preparedness tips.
East Baton Rouge officials spent Wednesday in talks with leaders from the state, the city of New Orleans, nearby localities and the Red Cross, said Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Rowdy Gaudet.
The Mayor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness hasn't been activated, but staff are monitoring weather conditions and talking to their counterparts across Louisiana to determine how to conduct any evacuations that may be necessary. For Baton Rouge, that entails deciding how to move New Orleans-area residents into the parish and provide housing without straining resources in the Capital City, Gaudet said.
The city-parish has stockpiled sand and bags in three undisclosed locations. If necessary, they'll be shipped to various fire departments and parks so locals can safeguard their homes against floodwaters.
Public works employees recently have focused on clearing out drainage canals, Gaudet noted.
In Lafayette, the city-parish government has been making preparations for the past several days and is gathering information from multi-agency conference calls and other sources to share with the parish's first-responders, an emergency official said.
Craig Stansbury, director of the Lafayette Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said the parish has high-water vehicles and other resources at hand and is ready to react to wherever the need arises.
"We're ready. We're monitoring. We have our supplies and resources available," Stansbury said.
In Ascension Parish, where both flash and backwater flooding can be risks in severe storms, parish officials said flash flooding appears to be the greatest risk to the parish based on current forecasts, though they continue to monitor parish waterways.
In a statement, parish officials said Wednesday afternoon that crews were filling sandbags and transporting them to fire stations across the parish but no loose sand or empty bags were available at traditional sandbag locations at this point.
Ascension Parish officials promised a list of sandbag locations in later updates.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 but is generally more active from mid-August to late October.
Edwards on Tuesday welcomed Brock Long, the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to Louisiana, and storm readiness was among the topics they discussed.
Editor's note: Advocate staff writers Mark Ballard and Steve Hardy contributed to this report.