Newly upgraded Tropical Storm Nate continued to dump heavy rain on Central America on Thursday morning as it approached the coast of Nicaragua.
But most eyes on the Gulf Coast are trained on the forecast path, which has shifted westward and shows what could be Hurricane Nate making landfall this weekend anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
As of the 7 a.m. CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Storm Nate was located about 10 miles south of Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua and was moving northwest at 8 mph.
Nate’s winds increased to 40 mph. Tropical storm force winds begin at 39 mph.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect from Sandy Bay Sirpi in Nicaragua to Punta Castilla in Honduras.
A hurricane watch is in effect from Punta Herrero to Rio Lagartos in Mexico.
The hurricane center expects Nate to make landfall later today in northeastern Nicaragua. It will then briefly cross over land and emerge back into the northwestern Caribbean by tonight, where it could strengthen more.
Forecasters said the center will be near the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by Friday night.
Then it enters the Gulf, and then the speculation really ramps up.
The track has shifted a good bit to the west overnight. Earlier forecasts had shown the center making landfall close to Panama City, Fla. But as of Thursday morning the center of the storm is forecast to come ashore near the Mississippi-Alabama border.
However, expect that track to shift again.
Tropical Storm Nate is still weak and could move near or over land two times before it reaches the Gulf Coast, which could alter its path.
The storm is expected to move around the western side of an area of high pressure that stretches from near the Bahamas into the central Caribbean. That will keep it moving to the northwest or north-northwest for the next day or two.
By Saturday another ridge is forecast to take shape off the coast of the Southeast U.S., which could steer the storm to the north-northwest at a faster pace.
It’s important to remember that effects from the storm could be felt far from where the center makes landfall, especially on the eastern side.
Here’s a key point from the hurricane center: "The system is forecast to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and could affect portions of the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane this weekend, with direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy
rainfall. However, it is too early to specify the timing, location, or magnitude of these impacts. Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system and heed any advice given by local officials."
How will Nate affect Alabama?
The National Weather Service in Mobile said rain chances near the coast will begin to increase on Saturday.
Heavy rain and isolated tornadoes will be possible well north of the center. In addition, seas will increasingly become rougher over the weekend, along with minor coastal flooding and a high rip current risk.
Winds are expected to increase late Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday as the system moves northward and across the area.
South Alabama could get 1-3 inches of rain from Nate, with isolated areas getting up to 6 inches. Depending on its track areas farther north could also get several inches of rain.
"The track and eventual landfall location may change as the system enters the Gulf and moves northward," the weather service said early Thursday. "But with all tropical systems, the heavy rainfall, tornado and surge impacts are much higher east of the center, so the entire forecast area could be at risk, especially since the track has been adjusted west."
Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore rides in on a horse to vote at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department during the Alabama Senate race, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Gallant, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Roy Moore didn’t travel to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to kiss and make up with the Republican leaders who opposed his nomination to fill the Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
He came to continue the revolt.
Moore didn’t meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., or stop by the White House to make nice with the forces that tried to defeat him. Instead, he huddled with Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist and one of Moore’s most outspoken advocates, and spent time in the office of a House Republican from Alabama.
The latest skirmish in the escalating war for the soul of the GOP was more than awkward: It was a window into what might be coming for Republicans next year, when hard-right conservatives emboldened by Moore’s runoff victory against Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., last week are likely to target still more establishment incumbents.
It also has immediate and potentially dire implications for the GOP’s slim working majority in the Senate. Although Moore still faces a general election on Dec. 12, he is widely seen as the front-runner in that race, given Alabama’s heavy conservative tilt.
The growing hostilities threaten the effort by Senate GOP leaders to foster enough unity in their ranks to pass a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax laws – which they are wagering is the only thing left that can reverse the political damage the party has sustained this year. Moore is seen as a wild card who could complicate if not derail that task.
The controversial former judge’s Washington debut as the Alabama GOP nominee was highly unusual. His trip was a surprise to many party officials, who said they did not hear from him or his team in advance.
Rather than meeting with McConnell, Moore was on the House side of the Capitol on Wednesday. In a brief interview as he left the office of Rep. Robert Aderholt in the afternoon, Moore said he had no meetings set up with McConnell or members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate majority’s campaign arm, which spent millions trying to defeat Moore in the primary.
"Nothing confirmed," he said casually, as an aide tried to head off questions. Asked why he decided to come to Washington, Moore simply replied: "Beautiful place."
In the evening, Moore met with NRSC Chairman Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., according to a Republican close to Gardner and a second Republican familiar with the talk who was granted anonymity to describe the closed-door session. Moore’s campaign declined to comment.
The meeting appeared to be hastily arranged, given Moore’s afternoon remark and Gardner’s uncertainty earlier in the day, as he and other Republicans struggled to save face.
"I haven’t looked at the schedule – I don’t know that yet," said NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner, R-Colo., when asked whether he planned to meet with Moore.
Even Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was left in the dark.
"Once he calls me, I’ll meet with him," said Shelby. He said he had not spoken to Moore since his victory last Tuesday over Strange.
Shelby, McConnell, Gardner and much of the mainstream wing of the party aggressively backed Strange, who was appointed to fill the Sessions seat. So did Trump.
But Moore’s pitch as strict Christian conservative and Washington outsider, which was bolstered by support from Bannon, proved to be the better fit for the restive GOP primary electorate that had grown frustrated with Republican lawmakers.
After eight months in which the Republican-controlled government fell short of its seven-year goal of dismantling the Affordable Care Act and failed to produce any major legislation, party officials are bracing for a similar backlash in other places across the country.
"We want outcomes. And clearly not getting to a point where we think we’re moving health-care in the right direction was very disappointing," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
While Strange’s most prominent backers promptly endorsed Moore after he won, he has shown considerably less interest in aligning with them.
There are strong hints of the company Moore plans to keep if he wins in December. On election night, he named three senators most known for taking defiant stands against GOP leaders, saying he had spoken with each to before giving his victory speech: Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Moore’s itinerary on his first trip to Washington reflected the theme, with Wednesday evening plans expected to include Lee and Cruz. and a planned private meeting with Paul on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, a longtime McConnell foil now running the Conservative Partnership Institute, plans to meet Thursday with Moore to talk policy, said several people granted anonymity to discuss private plans.
One of the reasons Republicans spent so much money to defeat Moore was a fear that his views would make it harder to strike compromises needed to pass legislative priorities such as tax cuts.
"Good luck moving President Trump’s growth agenda forward," Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said last week after the election. "The deadline for tax reform just became Dec. 12th."
By some measures, Republican prospects for passing a bill by then are slim, given the existing challenges associated with wrangling enough support among current GOP lawmakers who even without Moore in the mix have shown a tendency to disagree on major policy decisions.
"I’ve maintained all along, contrary to some of our colleagues who have felt that tax reform’s going to be a lot easier than health care, that tax reform is going to be enormously complex and challenging," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a top McConnell lieutenant.
At Moore’s meeting with Bannon on Wednesday morning, the two men compared notes on messaging and political strategy for the coming general election fight against Democratic nominee Doug Jones.
"The judge obviously really likes and respects Steve, and Steve really likes and respects the judge," said Andy Surabian, the senior adviser to the conservative advocacy group Great America Alliance, who attended the meeting Monday.
Some Republicans worry that Moore is a general-election liability who could alienate moderate voters with his controversial positions and past. He was twice ousted as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court – once for defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage and another time for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments installed at the courthouse.
Bannon and other Trump loyalists are bent on repeating their success in Alabama in some of the 2018 contests already taking shape. The White House has also signaled hostility toward several incumbent senators.
In remarks to Republican donors Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers endorsed a "purge" of GOP lawmakers disloyal to Trump’s agenda. Politico first reported the comments.
Mica Mosbacher, a Republican fundraiser who attended the event, said many attendees agreed with the sentiment.
"They are extremely disappointed in the do-nothing Congress," said Mosbacher, who is affiliated with America First Policies, a pro-Trump organization.
In some corners of Capitol Hill, however, Ayers’s remarks were met with a different response. Asked whether the comments amounted to an effective strategy for the party, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., responded, "probably not," with a tone suggesting the answer should be obvious.
But in a yet another sign that not all Republican senators are on the same page, one of Scott’s colleagues reacted very differently.
"I can tell you that people are upset that Republican senators are not backing the agenda of this president," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a Trump ally.
Moore’s ascent and the broader GOP war also jeopardizes Trump’s attempt to build a bipartisan agreement to protect thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation, according to several Republican aides on Capitol Hill.
While GOP lawmakers met with Trump this week to talk about framing an agreement on conservative terms, congressional GOP aides said more Republicans may still be wary of backing a deal on that issue because they fear primary repercussions if they align against the far right wing of the party.
White House officials have announced no plans for a Moore visit. Aides did not expect that to change, though they were hesitant to rule out any meetings and noted that the president is busy with the federal response to Las Vegas and recent hurricanes.
While Moore has been highly critical of McConnell, he has been warm to Trump, even as the president campaigned for his opponent.
McConnell’s office confirmed that Moore and the majority leader spoke briefly by phone the day after Moore’s victory.
But on Wednesday, others were getting face time. Aderholt, after meeting with Moore in his office Wednesday, downplayed the significance of the gathering.
"Just a meet-and-greet," he said.