SHARECOMMENTMORE

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Preparations are underway along the central Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Karen threatens to become the first named tropical system to menace the United States this year.

Hurricane and tropical storm watches are posted from southeast Louisiana to Florida. And some oil and gas platforms in the projected path of the storm are being secured and evacuated.

The storm is still more than 400 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Its top sustained winds are 65 miles an hour.

Forecasters say it could be at or near hurricane strength by Friday. They say it's too soon to predict how strong it will ultimately be, but that it could weaken a bit as it approaches the coast over the weekend.

One meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center says it should be "right around the border of a hurricane and a tropical storm."

A cold front approaching from the northwest is expected to turn the storm to the northeast, away from the Louisiana coast and more toward the Florida Panhandle or coastal Alabama. But the timing of the front's arrival over the weekend is uncertain.

The mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana, a barrier community about 60 miles south of New Orleans, says the town is making sure its 10 pump stations are ready. Residents are monitoring the storm and hoping to dodge the foul weather.