Tropical Storm Gordon expected to reach hurricane strength

The panhandle prepares as the storm moves through South Florida en route to crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

Editor's Note: This story updated as of 12:15 p.m. Sept. 4, 2018.

Tropical Storm Gordon continues to strengthen as it moves toward the northern Gulf Coast, forecast to become a hurricane before its projected landfall Tuesday night.

Coastal areas in the western Florida Panhandle are already feeling the storm’s effects, as outer rainbands are producing heavy rain and squalls as it continues to advance northwest.

As of 11 a.m., the storm had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph — with higher gusts — and was located about 145 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, moving west-northwest at 15 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Under its current track, the storm could move into the lower Mississippi Valley by Tuesday night and make landfall on the northern Gulf Coast later in the evening, forecasters said.

A hurricane warning is in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River near the Louisiana-Mississippi border to the Alabama-Florida border, with tropical storm warnings ranging from Morgan City, La., to the Florida Panhandle.

Coastal areas from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana could experience 4-8 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 12 inches through late Thursday that could cause dangerous flash flooding and "life-threatening" storm surge, according to the hurricane center.

"The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves," the center said.

The storm brought strong bands of rain and gusty winds across the lower Gulf Coast and South Florida on Labor Day. As Gordon moves away from Florida’s west coast, forecasters said it will pull deep tropical moisture into the region during the afternoon, producing scattered thunderstorms that will gradually dissipate later in the evening.

Schools in northwest Florida were closed, as some motorists left barrier islands and mariners moved boats and ships to safety. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday and said 200 National Guard troops will be deployed to southeastern Louisiana.

"This storm has every possibility to track further in our direction," Edwards said during a news conference Monday evening.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell held an afternoon news conference and said the city has "the pumps and the power" needed to protect residents. But authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside the city’s levee protection system, including the Venetian Isles, Lake Saint Catherine and Irish Bayou areas.

Gordon formed into a tropical storm near the Florida Keys early Monday as it lashed the southern part of the state with heavy rains and high winds.

Meanwhile, Florence has strengthened into the third hurricane but continues to linger far out in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph as it slowly moves west-northwest and not affecting land. No watches or warnings are currently in effect.

And, forecasters are monitoring Invest 92L, a tropical wave that has moved off the west coast of Africa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article was written by one or more Florida Beach Insider staff members.