BATON ROUGE, La. — Originally expected to make landfall in Mobile, Ala., Hurricane Ivan’s track has shifted west. Now, the massive storm is expected to hit near the Mississippi/Louisiana border early Thursday morning.

“If this storm shifts back and hits Mobile head-on, there could be a 25-foot surge in the bay,” says Barry Keim, regional climatologist with the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge. “There will be powerful rains and winds all along the coast. Winds should begin to pick up on the coast (Tuesday) afternoon and tropical force winds should arrive by midnight.”

Since Monday, Ivan has weakened a bit, says Keim. “We don’t know if that’s just some cycling in the eye wall or if there’s a prolonged weakening caused by shearing.”

Any weakening isn’t a reprieve, however. At landfall, Ivan is still expected to produce winds of 140 miles per hour. Rainfall expectations for coastal regions are “at least” in the 5-inch to 8-inch range.

“Other storms have produced 20 inches-plus, so this one isn’t a massive rainmaker,” says Keim. “It will still pack a punch, though. It’s very dangerous.”

Ivan’s rain bands are already at the Florida panhandle. They should move into Alabama Tuesday evening. Louisiana can also expect rain by late (Tuesday) night.

“Assuming it stays on its current track, the storm should move through Alabama. It will likely accelerate once it hits the higher latitudes. We expect it to weaken dramatically and speed through. Mississippi and northern Alabama can expect plenty of rain. It’s still iffy if a lot of rain will be dumped in Louisiana.”

There will likely be hurricane force winds in southeast Louisiana, says Keim. Tropical force winds will push well into the state — perhaps as far as Baton Rouge where gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour are being forecast.

What about rain forecasts for the Delta?

“It’s tough to say. I admit it: forecasting rain is very difficult to do,” says Keim. “Not long ago, we had a storm make landfall around New Orleans. The forecast said New Orleans would experience heavy rains and virtually nothing in Shreveport. While the storm followed the predicated path, New Orleans had very little rain and Shreveport was deluged.”

That said, Alabama — especially the middle third — should anticipate 4 inches of rain or more. Almost all of Mississippi should get “at least a good soaking. The eastern two-thirds of Louisiana can expect the same. At this point, the forecast says Arkansas won’t see much rain from the storm. That can all change with just a tiny shift in the storm’s track, though.”

Editor’s note: this story is current, as of midday, Tuesday, Sept. 14

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com