(CBSDFW.COM/CNN) -- Cristobal strengthened into a tropical storm on Friday as it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm, the third named system of an already active hurricane season, had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
Tropical storm and storm surge watches have been issued for parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Cristobal threatens make landfall along the Louisiana coast this weekend.
The latest forecast track has Cristobal moving ashore across the Gulf Coast as soon as Sunday afternoon.
Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to reach the US Gulf Coast between Texas and Florida as early as Saturday night, according to NHC forecasts. The storm's strength and where it might hit are likely to become clearer by Saturday morning.
"The highest winds, greatest storm surge and heaviest rain may occur east of where Cristobal makes landfall, so not only is the Louisiana coast at risk but also Mississippi, Alabama and well into the Florida Panhandle," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
"It looks like flooding will be the greatest threat from the storm and could occur over a wide area from Texas to Florida," he added. "It could produce widespread heavy rain associated directly from the storm and from a lot of tropical moisture that is already funneling into places like Florida."
As of 2 p.m. ET Friday, Cristobal had winds of 35 mph and gusts of 45 mph and was moving to the north at 12 mph as it begins to move off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
"This situation is different from other types of storms we've dealt with in the past because this is the first one that I'm aware of where we had to deal with a storm while at the same time deal with a pandemic," Abbott said during a news conference Friday.
A tropical storm watch was issued for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border, including New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas. A tropical storm watch means conditions including strong winds and heavy rainfall are possible within the watch area, generally within 48 hours, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A storm surge watch was issued for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast from Indian Pass to Aripeka, Florida, and from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, including Lake Borgne. A storm surge watch means there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours.
Flood risk would drop if storm speeds up
Cristobal had weakened into a tropical depression but gradually regained strength back to become a tropical storm.
"If the center can maintain some structure, then it will allow the storm to quickly strengthen once it reemerges into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend," CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said earlier on Friday.
A storm that's more intact will have a better chance of intensifying, or maintaining its strength, than a weak and ragged one.
But even then, more factors play into the intensity.
"There appears to be some limiting factors in advance of the storm to keep it from intensifying into a hurricane, with wind shear and expected dry air that the storm will entrain," Hennen said, explaining why he's skeptical the storm will strengthen significantly.
If the storm picks up speed and doesn't linger along the US coast, the flooding risk will drop.
A tropical storm watch also is in place Friday for parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cristobal already has produced deadly flooding in Mexico. Portions of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador could get another 10 to 15 inches of rain through Friday, bringing the rain total since Saturday to near 35 inches.
The rainfall will continue to bring dangerous flash flooding and mudslides to the region. As the storm pulls away from the Mexican coast, the rain will subside.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN Wire contributed to this report. The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report. All rights reserved.)
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