Central America, Cuba, Mexico brace for widespread flooding, damaging winds associated with Tropical Storm Nate

Tropical Storm Nate was already producing localized heavy rainfall in Central America and will raise the risk of flash flooding and high winds as it strengthens through Friday.

"Nate is projected to move northward and become a hurricane despite brushing land in Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio.

Because of the proximity to land in Central America, people may have little time to react and prepare for a tropical storm or hurricane.

"Since the system will be moving over very warm waters, we could quickly have a powerful hurricane on our hands," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

A storm that reaches Category 1 status has the potential to reach Category 2 or 3 (major hurricane) status in a matter of hours.

In the short term, the most likely area for rapid strengthening will be the stretch of water north of Honduras and east of Belize.

Even a weak tropical storm has the potential to bring flooding rainfall and dangerous surf and seas.

The greatest threats to lives and property in the western Caribbean will be from torrential rainfall.

Rainfall may total 250--500 mm (10-20 inches), with localized amounts of 760 mm (30 inches), across eastern portions of Nicaragua through Thursday night.

Costa Rica and Panama can have 130-250 mm (5-10 inches) of rain with isolated amounts of around 500 mm (20 inches) through Thursday.

Rainfall amounts of 50-130 mm (2-5 inches) are anticipated to fall across Honduras with localized amounts reaching 200 mm (8 inches) into the end of the week.

The intense rainfall will lead to widespread flooding and mudslides across Central America, southeastern Mexico and western Cuba.

The severity of the winds will depend on how quickly Nate strengthens. However, intense wind damage similar to that of Irma and Maria farther east in the Caribbean in recent weeks is not likely.

There will be the potential for localized power outages, blocked roads and property damage.

Gusts of 65-97 km/h (40-60 mph) are likely in thunderstorms that erupt even 160 km (100 miles) away from the center.

As Nate strengthens through Friday night, the strongest wind gusts between 120 and 145 km/h (75 and 90 mph) are possible along the coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and the Mexico states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. Higher gusts are possible if Nate strengthens beyond a Catagory 1 hurricane.

Bathers should avoid venturing into the water due to the building surf.

Small craft should remain in port, and cruise interests may want to avoid the northwestern Caribbean and the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Beyond the Caribbean, Nate will move northward toward the United States upper Gulf of Mexico coast, where landfall is forecast as a hurricane on Sunday.

People in Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, southeastern Mexico, the Cayman Islands, western Cuba and the United States' northern and eastern Gulf coast should keep up to date on the situation.

In addition to the risk from the current tropical system near Central America, there is another area to watch toward the middle of the month.

"The Atlantic basin may yield one more major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricane, which would bring the 2017 seasonal total to six," Kottlowski said.

The Atlantic basin includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

AccuWeather is projecting a total of 17 tropical storms, which includes 11 hurricanes, through December 2017 in the Atlantic. Hurricane season officially ends at the end of November.

Including Nate, there have been 14 tropical storms, eight hurricanes and five major hurricanes as of Oct. 5.

"To stay safe, we urge people to keep checking AccuWeather.com and the AccuWeather apps for the latest developments," AccuWeather Founder, President and Chairman Dr. Joel N. Myers said.