(Adds Alabama state of emergency, update from National Hurricane Center, comment from Weather Decision Technologies)
June 20 (Reuters) - Communities and oil refining and production facilities from Texas to Florida braced on Tuesday for potential disruptions as Tropical Storm Cindy meandered over the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, threatening to bring wind and heavy rain to the region.
Cindy was about 280 miles (450 km) south of Morgan City, Louisiana, on Tuesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (75 km) per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to approach the coast of southwest Louisiana late Wednesday and move inland over western Louisiana and eastern Texas on Thursday.
Heavy rainfall from the storm could produce life-threatening flash flooding along parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast, the NHC said.
"The winds aren't looking to get much stronger than they are now," but some areas east of Houston and toward Florida could see as much as 12 inches of rain, said Stephen Strum, vice president of extended forecast services at Weather Decision Technologies in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"It's moving fairly slow, so it's going to produce rain for a long time," he added.
Heavy rains and wind could disrupt oil supplies at the massive refining and production centers along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which could drive up prices for consumers. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest privately owned crude storage terminal in the United States, suspended vessel offloading operations ahead of the storm, but said it expected no interruptions to deliveries from its hub in Clovelly, Louisiana.
Royal Dutch Shell said it suspended some offshore well operations but production was so far unaffected. Anadarko Petroleum said it had evacuated non-essential staff from its Gulf of Mexico facilities.
Exxon Mobil Corp, Phillips 66, and Motiva Enterprises said the storm had not affected their refining operations.
Cindy was expected to produce 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm) of rain over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle through Thursday, the NHC said.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency. Officials in Houston, New Orleans and other cities along the Gulf Coast said they were monitoring developments. Florida Governor Rick Scott warned residents in the northwest part of his state to stay alert for flooding and heavy rain.
The storm could cause a surge of one to three feet along the coast and spawn tornados from south-central Louisiana to the western Florida Panhandle, the NHC said.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 17 percent of U.S. crude output and 5 percent of dry natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 45 percent of the nation's refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, also home to 51 percent of total U.S. natural gas processing capability.
Crude oil prices for physical delivery along the U.S. Gulf Coast were relatively stable, but cash gasoline prices rose as traders expected heavy rains and possible flooding to hit refineries in the region.
Prompt U.S. Gulf Coast conventional gasoline <RU-DIFF-USG> firmed to trade as little as 2 cents per gallon under the RBOB futures contract, its strongest in four months.
WeatherBell Analytics LLC forecast 11 to 13 named tropical storms in the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season, according to a May outlook.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, and has an annual average of 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.
Southeast of the Gulf of Mexico, a second tropical storm, Bret has been downgraded into a tropical wave. (Reporting by Nallur Sethuraman, Swati Verma, Apeksha Nair and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru, Catherine Ngai and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York and Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Chris Reese and David Gregorio)