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Cristobal enters the Gulf of Mexico, heads for Louisiana

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued an emergency disaster proclamation.

Tropical Storm Cristobal continued to gather strength Friday as it entered the Gulf of Mexico and aimed for Louisiana.

As of early Friday evening, the storm had sustained winds of 40 mph and was located 535 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It was headed north toward the Gulf Coast states at about 13 mph, federal forecasters said. The system was a tropical depression earlier in the day but "re-strengthened into a tropical storm" Friday, forecasters said in a discussion statement.

Louisiana Gov. Bel Edwards said Friday he would ask President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall federal emergency. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued an emergency disaster proclamation that will allow the city to access greater funds and resources.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the northern Gulf Coast roughly from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the western edge of Walton County, Florida. Such a warning was also applied to Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain.

A storm surge warning was issued for the mouth of the Mississippi River, which signifies "danger of life-threatening inundation," according to the hurricane center.

Earlier in the day, the center issued a tropical storm watch for parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, including Cozumel and Cancún.

Early Friday, Cristobal continued to slowly churn over Mexico, where it has been for nearly two days since making landfall as a Tropical Storm on Wednesday. Due to its nearly stationary motion, as of Thursday afternoon, nearly 30 inches of rain had fallen over locations in Central America. Through Saturday, several more inches of rain could still fall over portions of Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, southern Honduras and southern Guatemala. This rainfall could produce life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides. Storm total rainfall amounts could exceed 35 inches by the time the rain finally ends.

Once Cristobal moves away from Mexico, the second chapter begins.

On Saturday, Cristobal will strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and grow in size. It is expected to be a large and lopsided storm, with the strongest winds and heaviest rain expected on the east side of the circulation.

Cristobal is expected to make landfall as a large tropical storm somewhere between Houston, New Orleans or Mobile, Alabama, and most likely along the Louisiana coast. Landfall timing will be either late Sunday or early Monday.

Due to its large size, tropical storm force winds and heavy rain, the storm could begin for areas along the Gulf Coast as early as Saturday evening, a full 24 hours ahead of projected landfall. Due to the big wind field and large rain shield, its effects will extend far away from the storm center.

Folks along the Gulf Coast need to prepare for tropical storm impacts this weekend. In terms of the wind risk, tropical storm force winds could occur this weekend from Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle.

In addition to the wind, there is a risk for dangerous storm surge from Louisiana to the Florida Big Bend.

Rainfall will perhaps be the most widespread risk of all, with heavy rain possible from Texas to Florida. Flood Watches have been issued for 18 million people across central and southern Florida and southeast Louisiana. Rainfall rates in these locations could approach 2” or more per hour especially Sunday evening through Monday and rainfall totals could approach 10” through early next week.

When named earlier this week, Cristobal set the new record for the earliest third named storm of an Atlantic season. The third storm of the season typically does not form until August 13.

Cristobal joined the ranks of Tropical Storm Arthur and Tropical Storm Bertha, both of which also formed well ahead of the climatological average for the "A" and "B" named storms of the year.

Dennis Romero contributed.