Three states rolled out emergency plans Monday as subtropical Storm Alberto made landfall with driving rain and high winds that ended Memorial Day festivities early and sent National Guardsmen into waterlogged communities.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared emergencies for all 67 counties in his state and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant authorized the use of the National Guard, his office said.
Two television station employees of WYFF in Greenville, S.C., were killed while covering the impact of rain in Polk County in North Carolina. During the 6 p.m. broadcast, the station showed photos of anchor and reporter Mike McCormick and photographer Aaron Smeltzer and said the two were traveling on Highway 176 near Tryon, N.C., when a tree fell on their station vehicle.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency for 40 counties, CNN reported, adding that Ivey activated the state's emergency operations center while the Alabama National Guard activated its high water evacuation teams.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said at 7 p.m. ET Monday that Alberto was centered about 10 miles west-northwest of Panama City, Fla. With maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the storm was moving north at 9 mph.
Rough conditions were whipping up big waves off the eastern and northern Gulf Coast, and authorities warned swimmers to stay out of the surf because of life-threatening swells and rip currents.
Four to eight inches of rain could pummel the Florida Panhandle, eastern and central Alabama, and western Georgia before the storm moves on. Isolated deluges of 12 inches also were possible as the storm heads inland, threatening heavy rains around the Southeast in the coming hours and days.
Forecasters warned of life-threatening surf conditions as Alberto made landfall at Laguna Beach on the Florida Panhandle late Monday afternoon. A few brief tornadoes were possible in much of Florida and parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. But forecasters said flash flooding from heavy rain was the biggest threat for most areas.
As Alberto’s center moves farther inland – deprived of the warm waters that fuel tropical weather systems – the storm was expected to steadily weaken. A subtropical storm like Alberto has a less defined and cooler center than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds are found farther from its center.
Rangers with the the National Park Service close off Highway 399 through Gulf Islands National Seashore as a subtropical storm makes landfall on May 28, 2018 in Pensacola, Fla. Dan Anderson, AP
Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading were banned.
Some tourists said the rainy weather would not dampen their vacations.
Jason Powell said he was seeking to keep his children entertained until Alberto blows through his Florida Panhandle vacation spot.
“So far we’ve seen a lot of wind and the ocean is really high, covering up the entire beach,” Powell said. “We’re not letting it ruin our vacation … we’re going to watch some movies inside and a little TV, and hopefully maybe even get into the pool” despite the rain.
Janet Rhumes said her group of friends from Kansas had been planning their Memorial Day weekend on Navarre Beach since October, and no tropical storm could deter them. They stocked up on groceries and planned to play card games.
“We’ve never seen one before and we’re here celebrating a friend’s 20th birthday,” Rhumes told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “So how often can you say you rode a storm out?” Rhumes said she told her group.
The mayor of Orange Beach, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, said Alberto brought rain and aggravation – and dashed hopes for record crowds. Red flags flew on Alabama beaches and officers patrolled, making sure no one entered the water.
Elsewhere, Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said, about 2,600 customers were without power in northwestern Florida on Monday morning.
Scarlett Rustemeyer, a barista at the Fosko Coffee Barre in Pensacola Beach, said she always frets about power outages whenever storms come through Florida.
“My boyfriend and I usually try to go to the store and stock up on lots of bottled water, and get like canned goods and things that won’t go bad if our power goes out,” she said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a hurricane season forecast Thursday that calls for 10 to 16 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. One to four hurricanes could be “major” with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
If that forecast holds, it would make for a near-normal or above-normal season. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
Meanwhile, the storm forced some Memorial Day tributes to be canceled across Florida’s Panhandle. Safety was the priority, but the decision was still a “heartbreaker,” said Tom Rice, a 29-year-old Army veteran who leads the organizations that planned a ceremony Monday at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.
Some stragglers still made their way through the rain to pay tribute at the cemetery’s Veterans Tribute Tower, however. Rice said American flags had been placed Saturday on the graves of all 1,700 veterans buried in the cemetery.
“We got the flags out,” Rice told the Northwest Florida Daily News as wind whipped a massive U.S. flag flying at half-staff. “That’s what’s important.”