As a tropical depression developed over the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, forecasters warned of the possibility of flash floods and stormy seas but also a shot at some much-needed rain in the region.
The precipitation is needed in Southeast Texas, which has been suffering through a drought, and the New Orleans area, which has been blanketed by smoke from a stubborn marsh fire.
"Sometimes you get what you ask for," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, noting that rain from the system was helping with the fire. "Unfortunately it looks like we're going to get more than we needed."
Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning for the U.S. Gulf coast from Mississippi to Texas
The National Hurricane Center said Thursday night that the system will dump 10 to 15 inches of rain over southern areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Some areas could receive up to 20 inches of rain.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency.
Oil companies brought in workers from a small number of offshore platforms. Small craft warnings were issued from northwest Florida to Texas as seas of at least 1 to 2 feet above normal were in the forecasts.
Craig Taffaro, president of coastal St. Bernard Parish, said some flood gates were being closed along bayous and residents were being warned to brace for heavy rain. Still, in a parish that was nearly wiped out six years ago by Hurricane Katrina, Taffaro wasn't expecting a major event.
"We'd like the public to use this as a drill. Hopefully that's all it will be," he said.
Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil said they would bring in personnel from a handful of platforms and cut off a small amount of oil and gas production. The moves affect nine of 617 staffed production platforms in U.S. waters in the Gulf, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement. The agency said about 5.7 percent of oil and 2.4 percent of gas production would be affected.
Sporadic heavy rain began hitting the New Orleans area on Thursday, aiding firefighters battling the wildfire that has been burning for more than a week in a marshy area of New Orleans accessible only by air. The rain prompted state environmental officials to drop an air quality alert for the area.
NWS meteorologist Donald Jones in Lake Charles, La., said Texas should get some benefit from the system, which was already spawning showers off the southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas coast. How much of a benefit would depend on the direction of the system, how much it develops and whether it lingers in the area into next week as some computer models suggest. Forecast models varied widely on the storm's path and ultimate intensity.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates major flood control structures at New Orleans, was monitoring developments.
"At this time, we do not anticipate closing any of our structures," spokesman Ricky Boyett said in an email. "However, we will continue to monitor the conditions in the Gulf very closely and are making all of the necessary preparations in the event that these conditions change."