reports the tropical system brewing in the Gulf of Mexico has potential to be the next billion-dollar disaster for the U.S., by way of flooding.

Expert opinions on where the developing tropical system will wander over the next week or more vary from meteorologist to meteorologist. However, most of these opinions do not reflect minimal impact scenarios.

Most meteorologists at think this system will become a named storm (tropical storm or hurricane), and there is great potential for torrential rainfall and flooding somewhere along the north-central Gulf Coast.

The consensus among nearly 100 meteorologists at AccuWeather is that this will be an extensive, slow-moving system, capable of affecting the same areas for days with downpours, stormy seas and rough surf conditions. Rough seas alone have potential to shut down rigs in the Gulf for an extended period.

From 10 to 20 inches of rain may fall on part of the north-central Gulf Coast beginning late this week and continuing into next week, and could in itself result in disastrous flooding.

From Florida to Texas

Areas from the western Florida Panhandle to the Texas coast are at risk at this early stage for such an occurrence.

Other issues to consider with the long-duration, meandering tropical system include potential for long-duration storm surge.

Meteorologist Mark Mancuso can see how New Orleans, with its levee system in question, could be hit with over a foot of rain, a challenge within itself. "It's not just the rainfall, but perhaps days of pressure on levees, as storm surge water could be driven into Lake Pontchartrain if a tropical storm or hurricane hangs out over the north-central Gulf of Mexico," Mancuso said.

The relentless circulation around a slow-moving tropical storm or hurricane can greatly raise water levels on shorelines and bays to its north and east. Other areas are vulnerable as well.

Hurricane Ike, which moved steadily along, was preceded by a flooding storm surge well in advance on the northwestern Gulf coast.

The developing tropical system in the Gulf can move just about anywhere. That movement includes zigzags, loops, a 180-degree change in direction, a stall, and perhaps a slow, steady straight path inland.

Considering potential for damage, impact to the petroleum industry and commerce in the Gulf Coast region, the system, as of yet to gather a name, could be the next billion-dollar disaster in a mountainous year of costly storms for the U.S.

The FEMA budget is already in trouble.

The latest consensus is that little or no rain from the system will reach very far into the neediest areas of Texas and Oklahoma.

However, at least the system will help to pull cooler air down into Oklahoma and the Lone Star State from north to south over the Labor Day weekend, ending the agonizing nearly summer-long heat wave.