Tropical Storm Karen is approaching the U.S. coastline in the Gulf and is expected to make landfall Saturday night or Sunday morning; Willis Re reports that there is a 26 percent chance it will be a hurricane by that time.

“Tropical Storm Karen is expected to slightly strengthen over the next 24 hours under moderate shear, and could reach hurricane status by Friday,” said Tim Doggett, senior principal scientist, AIR Worldwide. “However, the shear over the Gulf of Mexico is forecast to become more severe in the next 48 hours due to a jet stream disturbance moving in from the U.S. Central Plain. The more hostile environment will prevent further intensification, and weakening is expected before landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast.”

 As such, a hurricane watch has been declared from Grand Isle, La., excluding metropolitan New Orleans, westward to Indian Pass, Fla. In addition, a tropical storm watch has been issued for metropolitan New Orleans, Lake Maurepas and Lake Ponchartrain, all in Louisiana.

According to Willis, within 48 hours, there is a 62-percent chance Karen will remain at tropical storm strength, a 26-percent chance Karen will strengthen to a hurricane (74+ mph winds) and a 12-percent chance Karen will weaken to the level of a tropical depression.

According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, Karen became a tropical storm at 8 a.m., Thursday, and with the current weather patterns, there’s a distinct chance Karen could continue to strengthen.

The storm is currently hundreds of miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River; winds are currently reaching 65 miles per hour. The anticipated trajectory has the storm swinging northeast and hitting land around Pensacola, Fla., and then cutting across Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Over the next day or so, Karen is expected to produce heavy rainfall over portions of Western Cuba and the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula.

According to AIR, the majority of single-family residential structures along the U.S. Gulf Coast are of masonry construction. Under weak to moderate hurricane wind speeds, these structures can experience moderate damage to the roof, with little damage to masonry walls expected. The vulnerability of mobile homes and light metal structures, though less common, is much greater, AIR added. Engineered structures, such as reinforced concrete and steel buildings, should experience less damage compared to residential wood-frame and masonry structures; they may exhibit isolated instances of nonstructural damage, such as that to windows and roof coverings.

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