Gulf Coast prepares for flooding from Tropical Storm Cristobal

Gulf Coast prepares for flooding from Tropical Storm Cristobal (CNN Newsource)

The latest forecast track has Tropical Storm Cristobal -- the third named storm of what is expected to be an active hurricane season -- making landfall sometime Sunday afternoon or early evening.

Cristobal has sustained winds of 50 mph and is expected to continue to strengthen as it tracks north through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.

Track Tropical Storm Cristobal here >>>

As for Cristobal's landfall location, several models say it will fall somewhere between Marsh Island and Slidell, Louisiana. But that does not mean other locations will be free from impact.

"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," said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

In the New Orleans area, voluntary evacuation orders are in place for the towns of Jean Lafitte, Lower Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria, Jefferson Parish officials announced Saturday morning.

Residents are advised to bring vehicles, boats and campers to higher ground as the storm is expected to bring heavy rainfall, according to Jefferson Parish officials.

Flooding will be the biggest concern for Gulf Coast states east of Texas.

Storm surge warnings are in effect for portions of Louisiana and Mississippi. A storm surge warning, according to the National Hurricane Center, means there is a possibility of life threatening inundation possible within the next 36 hours from rising water moving inland.

Storm surge will be highest between Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and the mouth of the Mississippi River where up to 3 to 5 feet is forecast.

"Coastal flooding, heavy rain and dangerous beach conditions will be the main impacts locally," the National Weather Service said on its website. "The heaviest rain and greatest coastal flooding threat is expected Saturday night through Sunday."

It's worth noting that if the storm speeds up, and does not linger along the coast, flooding risks will decrease a bit.

"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.

Another concern is the potential for severe weather. The Storm Prediction Center has a "marginal risk" for the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northwestern Florida.

“Tropical storms like Cristobal can still be prolific tornado producers, especially when making landfall on the Gulf Coast,” said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “Landfalling tropical systems from the Gulf of Mexico produce more tornadoes than their counterparts making landfall along the Atlantic coast, largely because the right-front quadrant (where most tornadoes are found) is located completely onshore.”