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Alberto nears landfall along Florida Panhandle with rough surf

Alberto was maintaining its strength and was centered about 15 miles west-northwest of Panama City, Florida, according to a 5 p.m. ET update from the National Hurricane Center, or NHC,in Miami. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, having weakened slightly since the morning.

Forecasters warned of life-threatening surf conditions and the possibility of a few brief tornadoes in much of Florida and parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. It said heavy rains were also expected, giving coastal residents a taste of what forecasters recently predicted would be an active hurricane season.

“Given the short period of time before Alberto makes landfall, its overall ragged appearance and proximity to dry air, little change in strength is expected before the subtropical storm reaches the coast,” said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at the NHC.

Alberto nears landfall along Florida Panhandle with rough surf
Alberto nears landfall along Florida Panhandle with rough surf

In Cuba, where Alberto’s outer bands dumped about a foot of rain overnight — causing rivers and reservoirs to overflow — the storm shut down railroad service, an oil refinery and parts of the country’s national highway, according to state television and Cuba’s National Meteorological Institute.

About 20,000 people were evacuated across the island.

Alberto comes at the same time as a separate storm system that raked the mid-Atlantic over the weekend and deluged the community of Ellicott City, Maryland, which was swamped by a river that rose by 17 feet in just two hours.

Across the Gulf Coast, residents were bracing for their own misery. Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, Florida, where swimming and wading were banned amid high surf and dangerous conditions.

Panama City resident Jo Newton said she was filling up sandbags “to hopefully keep the water from coming in my front door.”

“I’m actually terrified of the amount of rain that is predicted to come in,” she said.

This is the scene in Inlet Beach just after 8am before the rain started. Other than the water rise from the surge all is well so far. Conditions will continue to deteriorate thru the morning hours. pic.twitter.com/HSv9ybqxMv

— WJHG-TV (@WJHG_TV) May 28, 2018

Slow-moving Alberto could drop 4 to 8 inches of rain from the Florida Panhandle into parts of Alabama and western Georgia as it hangs around the region into midweek, forecasters said. The Tennessee Valley and the Carolinas could get soaked with 2 to 6 inches into Wednesday morning.

Recent heavy rains in the Southeast could also make flooding worse in some areas of Florida and through the Carolinas where the ground is saturated, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm’s approach triggered mandatory evacuations of some small, sparsely populated Gulf Coast barrier islands in Florida’s Franklin County.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Sunday that such storms were “unpredictable,” but he appeared to be preparing for the worst. On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency in 67 counties, and more than 5,000 National Guard members were ready for deployment.

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