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Florida vs. LSU: How Tropical Storm — or Hurricane — Nate complicates

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Florida-LSU might be affected by a storm again, but not the way you might think.

New Orleans has already flooded once this fall. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As of midday Wednesday, it seemed possible that this year’s Florida Gators game against the LSU Tigers could once again be impacted by a hurricane.

All the dread about a rescheduled game, and a kerfuffle like the one that followed Hurricane Matthew scrubbing the initially scheduled meeting between the Gators and Tigers in Gainesville last fall? It got dredged up in a hurry on Wednesday.

Fortunately for those in Florida, though, the future of what has since become Tropical Storm Nate has changed a lot as it has dawdled off the coast of Nicaragua. The National Hurricane Center’s projected track now takes it well west of the Sunshine State’s non-Panhandle regions...

...but almost directly over New Orleans. (I can tell you why, too: There’s a tropical disturbance that has been hanging out in the Florida Straits literally since Sunday, and it’s barraged the southern half of Florida with gusty winds and rain bands almost nonstop since then. That disturbance’s stubborn refusal to move north or dissipate is why Nate’s track has gone west: Nate is steering around it.)

And that ensures that Nate will impact the game — by making it slightly more complicated for a football team from Louisiana, and far more complicated for fans from the state.

I think we can safely assume that Florida and LSU will go forward with playing this game, and that no weather issues related to Nate will alter travel plans for Thursday and Friday, given that Nate will likely be crossing the Yucatan Peninsula on Friday night.

But Saturday’s a different story.

The people who comprise LSU’s traveling party should probably be able to get from Gainesville back to Baton Rouge safely in advance of Nate, I imagine: A 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday probably dictates a four-hour flight leaving Gainesville sometime that evening and arriving in Louisiana late Saturday or very early Sunday morning, with some time left to get to homes or dorms or shelter before a Sunday morning landfall.

However, that’s only a probability, not a certainty — and it’s one that only covers the members of LSU’s traveling party that can return to the Pelican State by plane. Like any college football team playing a road game, LSU will obviously also send an equipment truck, and other personnel that will drive, from Baton Rouge to Gainesville — and it would be inadvisable for those folks to be on Interstate 10 on a Sunday when a hurricane is also crossing it.

And then there are the thousands of LSU fans who might trek to Gainesville.

Some of those folks will no doubt drive home immediately after the game. White-knuckling a nine-hour drive in advance of a hurricane is not a thing I’d do, but it would get some of those fans home with just hours to spare before landfall. More, though, will likely stay the night on Saturday, and be more or less stranded on Sunday.

While there would be some sick irony in LSU fans a) being made to extend their stay in Gainesville a year after they didn’t make a planned trip — I would recommend Burrito Brothers for a Sunday meal in that case, except, well, uh — and/or b) ultimately using Gainesville to evacuate from a hurricane, this weekend will obviously be a nerve-wracking experience for Louisianans, even for those leaving the state. Having evacuated myself from a barrier island twice in the past 12 months, I can tell you from personal experience that driving back to a place and anticipating possible damage from a hurricane is not advisable.

Given that the decision to go to Gainesville might actually double as an evacuation plan for some LSU fans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see LSU fans invade Gainesville in droves — but given that life is far more important than football, I also won’t blame LSU fans in the slightest for skipping this game and electing to stay home and batten down the hatches.

Nate is likely to become a hurricane at some point on or before Saturday, and landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast as one on Sunday — but while the forecast still has a lot of uncertainty, Nate is now projected to go far enough west that its impacts on Saturday weather in Gainesville should be minimal. Florida-LSU should be playable as scheduled, with no more than minimal alterations to the game itself. (It would be cool if CBS could shorten some of its TV timeouts to give fans a better chance of making the full drive home from Gainesville to Louisiana on Saturday night, but this is CBS, so...)

But Nate’s impacts — even if it races through Louisiana, as forecasts suggest it might, and thus does not drop much rain — loom as a possibly major disruption for Louisiana on Sunday, and so LSU fans have one worry-filled weekend before them. My thoughts and best wishes and hopes are with them — and I hope yours will be, too.