* Storm's top wind speeds drop to 35 mph
* Little change in strength forecast before landfall
* Storm still a rainmaker but poses little threat
By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Karen weakenedto a depression as it hovered off the Louisiana coast onSaturday after earlier fears it would reach hurricane strengthprompted the evacuation of some coastal areas and disrupted U.S.energy output in the Gulf of Mexico.
Karen's top sustained winds dropped to 35 mph (55 kph) onSaturday night. That was down from 65 mph (105 kph) on Thursdayand 50 mph (80 kph) on Friday, and National Hurricane Centerforecasters in Miami said Karen had lost its status as atropical storm.
"All tropical storm warnings have been discontinued," thecenter said in an advisory. "There are no coastal tropical stormwarnings or watches in effect."
Dry air and wind shear had been tearing the storm apart allday, even as it threatened to draw renewed strength from warmsea-surface temperatures in the Gulf.
Karen was originally forecast to become a hurricane, andauthorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lyingareas south of New Orleans on Friday.
Tropical storms carry winds of 39 mph to 73 mph (63 kph to118 kph).
The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabamahad earlier declared states of emergency to speed stormpreparations, and the Federal Emergency Management Agencyrecalled some workers who were furloughed in the federalgovernment shutdown to assist.
Nearly two-thirds of oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexicowas halted as Karen neared the Louisiana coast earlier thisweek, prompting oil and gas companies to shut platforms andevacuate workers in preparation for the storm. The Gulf accountsfor about 19 percent of U.S. oil production and 6 percent ofnatural gas output.
By late Saturday night, the slow-moving storm was centeredabout 185 miles (295 km) southwest of the mouth of theMississippi River. On its projected path, Karen was likely tomove over the southeast tip of Louisiana early on Sunday beforeskirting the coasts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle onSunday night and Monday.
The storm could dump up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain on someareas of the central Gulf Coast and Southeastern states throughMonday before breaking up entirely, the hurricane center said.
- Natural Phenomena
- Nature & Environment