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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Tropical Storm Karen is poised to become the first named storm to hit the U.S. during what had been a relatively quiet hurricane season.

Karen is forecast to lash the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane watch is in effect from Grand Isle, La., to west of Destin, Fla. A tropical storm warning was issued for the Louisiana coast from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River, including the New Orleans area.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says early Friday that Karen was about 320 miles (515 kilometers) south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) with higher gusts.

Florida State of emergency declared in 18 Florida counties

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 18 Florida Panhandle counties in preparation for Tropical Storm Karen.

Scott signed the order Thursday evening.

Karen is forecast to hit the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a weak hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane watch i in effect from Grand Isle, La., to west of Destin, Fla. It could be at or near hurricane strength late Friday and early Saturday.

Forecasters say Karen is expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to portions of the central and eastern Gulf Coast through Sunday night.

Miss. declares emergency ahead of tropical storm

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Karen churns through the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials say it could be a strong tropical storm or weak hurricane when it makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday, somewhere between eastern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham says Karen could bring high winds and heavy rain to this state. He says people should prepare to leave their homes in advance if they're in flood-prone areas.

Thursday's emergency declaration allows the state to send people and material to areas that might be affected by the storm.

Local schools will decide whether to cancel Friday night football games. Coast casinos are communicating with local emergency officials about whether they'll need to close.

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