02:19 - Source: CNN
Tropical Storm Cristobal strengthens across the Gulf of Mexico
CNN  — 

Evacuation orders were issued Saturday in several Louisiana parishes ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Cristobal – the third named storm of what is expected to be an active hurricane season – which is expected to make landfall Sunday night.

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.

There was at least one confirmed tornado associated with Cristobal that touched down southeast of downtown Orlando Saturday night, according to a city spokesperson.

At least three homes were significantly impacted by storm activity, the spokesperson told CNN.

Orlando Fire and Police departments are assessing damage and assisting residents in the area, the spokesperson said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post that it is working with Orange County Fire Rescue Department to clear downed power lines where the tornado hit.

For a time, SeaWorld and Universal Studios were under a tornado warning and a funnel cloud was sighted.

Evacuation orders were in place for St. John the Baptist, Plaquemines and Lafourche parishes in Louisiana.

Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lepine issued a voluntary evacuation order for the low-lying communities of Happy Jack, Grand Bayou, Myrtle Grove, Lake Hermitage, Harlem and Monsecour.

“We have sandbags arranged and all parish pumping stations are operational,” Lepine said in a statement. “We have ordered this voluntary evacuation as an additional precautionary measure to urge residents to move to an area of safety before Cristobal makes land fall.”

The 8 p.m. ET update Saturday from the National Hurricane Center says Cristobal was moving north at 12 mph. The center of the storm is 235 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

The updated track continues the northward movement through Sunday morning with a gradual turn to the northwest in the afternoon.

The center of the storm should cross the southern Louisiana coast by Sunday evening. Cristobal is expected to maintain tropical storm strength through landfall.

Tropical storm warnings continue from the southwest Louisiana coast to just east of Pensacola, Florida

Track Tropical Storm Cristobal here >>>

As for Cristobal’s landfall location, several models say it will fall somewhere between Marsh Island and Slidell. 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 National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has a “slight risk” from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Morgan City, Louisiana, including New Orleans. A “marginal risk” exists 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.”

CNN’s Kay Jones in New Orleans and meteorologists Haley Brink and Gene Norman contributed to this story.