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Lee loses strength, but flood threat remains as it moves north

September 5, 2011 |  6:39 am

Storm Lee in Alabama

The big, ugly hunk of weather known as Lee weakened as it moved across Louisiana on Monday morning, and is no longer classified as a tropical storm -- though experts warn it could still cause flooding as it moves up the East Coast.

At 5 a.m. EDT, the center of Lee, now a tropical depression, was 35 miles northwest of New Orleans, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, and headed northeast, the National Hurricane Center reported.

At one point this weekend, Lee's winds were blowing at 60 mph -- about 14 mph below hurricane strength.

So far, New Orleans has avoided major problems from Lee, but there were numerous reports of flooding across the Gulf Coast. A cluster of communities south of New Orleans -- Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria -- were badly flooded by water the storm pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico.

Heavy rain, more than wind, will continue to be Lee's biggest threat as it moves northeast, visiting south Mississippi on Monday and Alabama on Tuesday.

Flood and flash flood watches were in effect from the Texas coast and the gulf up to the central Appalachians. meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski predicted the storm would be in the southern Appalachian region by Wednesday, potentially bringing flash flooding and mudslides.

The central Appalachian, mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, she wrote, "are in store for a dreary and cool stretch of weather Tuesday into Thursday," though rain will be intermittent in many of those areas.

Hurricane Katia, meanwhile, continued to wheel in the Atlantic. It was about 600 miles southeast of Bermuda on Monday morning, heading northwest with 100 mph winds. The hurricane center warned of large swells that would affect the East Coast, but has not determined whether the storm will make landfall there.


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-- Richard Fausset

Photo: A band of dark rain clouds approaches the shore in Dauphin Island, Ala., as the center of slow-crawling Tropical Storm Lee makes landfall Sunday on the Louisiana coast. Credit: Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press