The center of the storm system — previously referred to as Potential Tropical Cyclone Three — came ashore sometime early Saturday, and by 4 a.m. CT was centered about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans with sustained winds of 45 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Claudette is expected to produce heavy rain and dangerous flash flooding across coastal Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the far western Florida Panhandle, through Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.
High winds also were battering parts of the region. Tropical-storm-force winds — at least 39 mph — extended more than 200 miles from the center, the NHC said.
Parts of Louisiana were bombarded with more than 9 inches of rain Friday into early Saturday, according to CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford.
Claudette is forecast to weaken into a tropical depression by tonight and become post-tropical on Sunday. The system is then forecast to re-develop over the western Atlantic Ocean on Monday as it moves away from the East Coast of the US.
Residents in the region have prepared over the last couple days for the storm. In New Orleans, Cara McCarthy was moving her Toyota Prius to higher ground.
“I loaded up a bunch of sand and I am going to put them around my pens, that way my dogs aren’t in knee high water,” Michael Fahey, a Hancock County, Mississippi, resident told WLOX.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency on Thursday and activated the Crisis Action Team to support local agencies with resources needed beyond parish capabilities.
A tornado watch was issued for the Gulf Coast, including parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and the panhandle of Florida until 11 a.m. Central time, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Some of the cities under that watch are Gulfport, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida.
The threat of tornadoes will remain as the storm system moves inland, though they are expected to be short and weaker.
More than 20 million across the South were under flash flood watch, with some areas expecting 2-10 inches of rain until the storm system moves to the East Coast.
Whether this system became a tropical storm before or after landfall wasn’t immediately clear. The National Hurricane Center simultaneously announced around 4 a.m. CT that the tropical storm had formed, and also that it was centered inland, near Houma, Louisiana.
The NHC on Friday had suggested that the storm system, then a potential tropical cyclone over the Gulf of Mexico, could develop into a tropical storm even after coming ashore.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location of the storm’s center as of 4 a.m. CT Saturday. It was about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans.
CNN’s Tyler Mauldin, Steve Almasy and Haley Brink contributed to this report.