HOUSTON (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Sally, off the west coast of Florida, could strengthen into a hurricane by Monday, bringing wind, heavy seas and flash flooding to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Its track will disrupt oil-producing areas of the Gulf for a second time in less than a month. The latest NHC forecast calls for the storm's maximum sustained winds to reach 80 miles per hour (129 kph).
Tropical Storm Sally is not projected to approach the size or intensity of Hurricane Laura in August, but it will cause up to 12-foot (4.2m) swells offshore, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist for DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider.
Laura rampaged across the Gulf of Mexico three weeks ago and grew into a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph (240 kph) winds. It shut hundreds of offshore oil facilities, leveled coastal Louisiana towns and left residents of Louisiana and Texas without power for weeks.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on Saturday urged residents to monitor the latest weather reports and heed warnings by local officials.
Oil companies evacuated staff some offshore platforms on Saturday as Tropical Storm Sally reached warm Gulf of Mexico waters. Winds were 40 miles per hour (65 kph), according to a midday measure.
Chevron Corp <CVX.N> and Murphy Oil Corp <MUR.N> evacuated offshore production platforms, and Chevron was preparing to halt output at two, spokespeople said. Other oil companies said they were monitoring the storm and prepared to take actions.
The storm could move slowly and change its path over the next few days, DTN's Foerster said.
"Slow-moving storms are tricky. They don't explode in intensity, but it is hard to get the exact landfall" because of the speed, he said.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)