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Tropical storm looms in Gulf; snowstorm builds in Rockies

Shannon Kaestle / Zuma Press

Downtown Miami is shrouded in storm clouds as Tropical Storm Karen heads toward Florida's Panhandle on Thursday.

A hurricane watch for the Gulf Coast and an early season snowstorm in the Rockies and Plains have broken the calm of a relatively quiet period of weather across the country.

Tropical Storm Karen has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, prompting a hurricane watch along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.

An animation from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Karen looming in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the U.S. coast between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle.

Hurricane watches are in effect from Grand Isle, La., eastward to Indian Pass, Fla., according to the National Hurricane Center. The watch area does not include metropolitan New Orleans. 

As Karen moves northwest and north toward the central Gulf of Mexico, the intensity of the storm remained uncertain, the Weather Channel reported. 

The storm will likely make landfall with the Gulf Coast on Saturday.

“There’s a cause to be concerned any time you have a tropical cyclone,” said Nick Wiltgen, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. “People need to be prepared for the uncertainties intensity. 

“If this ends up in the higher end of expectations with a hurricane, some folks could be dealing with potentially damaging winds, and there will be some heavy rainfall as well” he added. 

Wiltgen added that it was extremely unlikely that the storm would be “catastrophic,” adding that people in affected areas could have “some peace of mind that the more catastrophic scenarios don’t seem to be in the cards for this one.” 

In anticipation, the White House said it would recall employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who have been placed on furlough because of the federal government shutdown.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday afternoon in response to the storm forecasts. Under the declaration, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is authorized to carry out any steps necessary to prepare for the storm and respond to emergencies resulting from it. 

The tropical storm is just one weather system ready to rev up what a quiet early autumn. 

An early season winter storm is set to strike from the Northern Rockies to the Northern Plains over the next several days, also triggering severe weather in the Midwest, according to the Weather Channel. 

Snow, strong winds and rain are predicted to stretch from Idaho to Nebraska. 

“It’s a very early winter storm, especially for parts of the Plains States, such as South Dakota, northern Nebraska, and potentially North Dakota,” said Wiltgen.

The heaviest snow will fall in the high elevations of the Northern Rockies, with over a foot of snow predicted in parts of southern Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, according to the Weather Channel.

Wiltgen said the storm could make it very difficult for travelers in the affected regions.

“There’s a lot of wind driving this snow,” he said. “Visibility will be poor and there could be near blizzard conditions.” 

The storm could trigger severe weather and tornado activity in Iowa, eastern Nebraska and parts of Kansas peaking on Friday, Wiltgen said.

“It’s entirely possible that Friday, in terms of thunderstorms and tornadoes could be one of the more significant storms in the last three months or so,” he said.