If there is one thing that we learned from Hurricane Irene, it's that a tropical storm or hurricane doesn't have to have the highest winds in order to cause massive damage. And Tropical Storm Lee, in the Gulf of Mexico, is the next system to pose a serious danger to parts of the U.S.
The National Hurricane Center does not expect Lee to strengthen into hurricane, but the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center expects the slow-moving tropical storm to produce copious amounts of rainfall fall along the Gulf Coast and then farther northward.
As much as a foot and a half of rain is possible in parts of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi through next Wednesday, and very heavy rainfall -- possibly well over six inches will extend northward into central Louisiana, central Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the western Florida panhandle. The heavy rain will eventually extend northward into the Tennessee Valley and perhaps the mid-Atlantic region as the remnant moisture gets pulled northward.
This much rain during a relatively short period of time has the potential to produce life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, as well as property damage. That's the case even in a region where long-term rainfall has been less than normal, which is the case along the Gulf Coast. The drought where the rain is predicted is not as intense as it is across Oklahoma and Texas, where drought conditions are "exceptional" -- the worst category.
The rain is the biggest threat, especially if Lee remains below hurricane strength as predicted; however, if the storm were to remain over the sultry water, the tropical storm could strengthen into a hurricane. A hurricane, of course, would pose greater danger in terms of wind and storm surge.
Regardless of any intensification, rain will be a very serious threat.