Nate is set to become a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest on a five-category scale used by meteorologists, by the time it hits the U.S. central Gulf Coast on Saturday night or Sunday.
The storm is expected to brush by the edge of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, home to beach resorts such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen, before heading into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Nate was blowing maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour (97 kmh) and was about 80 miles (123 km) east of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel on Friday afternoon, the NHC said.
In the United States, a state of emergency was declared for 29 Florida counties and states near Nate's path - Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi - as well as the city of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Friday ordered a mandatory evacuation of some areas outside of the city's levee system, as well as a mandatory curfew as Nate approached.
The NHC issued a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Alabama/Florida border.
"By Saturday noon you should be in your safe place," Alabama Governor Kay Ivey told a news conference. "This is a fast-moving storm and we must begin preparing now."
On Friday afternoon, Nate was moving north-northwest at 21 miles per hour (34 kmh), a fast pace which if maintained could mean the storm does less damage when it hits land.
CENTRAL AMERICA DEATHS
The storm doused Central America with heavy rains on Thursday, killing at least 12 people in Nicaragua, nine in Costa Rica, two in Honduras and two in El Salvador, local authorities said.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis urged residents to remain vigilant, noting rains would likely resume.
In Honduras, residents wondered whether they would have to flee. Norma Chavez and her two children anxiously watched a river rise outside their home in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
"We are worried that it will grow more and carry away the house," said Chavez, 45.
Through Monday, Nate is expected to produce 2-4 inches (5 to 10 cm) more rain in parts of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) in eastern Yucatan and western Cuba and three to six inches (8 to 15 inches) in the U.S. central Gulf Coast.
About 71 percent of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil production and 53 percent of natural gas output is offline ahead of Nate's arrival, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said on Friday.
Oil companies have evacuated staff from 66 platforms and five drilling rigs, it said. Oil production equalling 1.24 million barrels of crude per day is offline, according to BSEE.
(Additional reporting by Julia Love and Christine Murray in Mexico City,; Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gary McWilliams in Houston and Colleen Jenkins; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)