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Tropical Storm Nestor takes aim at Florida Panhandle

Tropical Storm Nestor eyes the Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Nestor formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, threatening the northern Gulf Coast with rising seawater, high winds and heavy rains. The National Hurricane Center said high winds and dangerous storm surge were likely along parts of the northern Gulf Coast, plus heavy rain that could help a parched region deal with a drought.

The storm is expected to hit the Florida Panhandle early Saturday and bring "strong winds, storm surge, heavy rainfall and dangerous rip currents," according to the National Weather Service. The service also warned that "a tornado or two" is possible across the northern and central Florida Peninsula. 

Conditions were expected to get worse along the coast late Friday into early Saturday. Forecasters said at 11 p.m. Friday that the system was about 135 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. It had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and was moving to the northeast at 23 mph.

Nestor was forecast to hit the coast around Mexico Beach without strengthening into a hurricane. The area is still trying to recover after it was devastated by Hurricane Michael last year. 

A tropical storm warning was in effect from the Navarre, Florida, to Yankeetown, Florida, and a storm surge warning was in effect from Indian Pass, Florida, to Clearwater Beach, Florida. Forecasters expect blustery winds and heavy rain. 

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This image shows the projected path of Tropical Storm Nestor on Friday, October 18, 2019.  National Hurricane Center

The Coast Guard said 20-foot seas were possible around Panama City, and dangerous rip currents were possible along beaches during what is still a busy tourism period.

In New Orleans, winds hampered crews that were trying to place explosives to topple damaged construction cranes towering over a partially collapsed hotel project at the edge of the French Quarter. Officials delayed plans to bring down the structures before Nestor approached.

"We're working as fast as possible," said Fire Chief Tim McConnell.

High schools from Alabama to the eastern Florida Panhandle called off football games scheduled for Friday night, and officials in Panama City tried to assure residents that the storm wouldn't be a repeat of Category 5 Hurricane Michael last year.

"We are optimistic this will be a slight wind and rain event," said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford.

The system could dump from 2 to 4 inches of rain from the central Gulf Coast to the eastern Carolinas, where many areas are dried out from weeks without rain, and as much as 6 inches in spots, forecasters said.

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