MIAMI (AP) — A storm kicking up in the Caribbean Sea is threatening to bring heavy rainfall and flash floods to parts of Mexico, Cuba, Florida and the eastern U.S. Gulf Coast this weekend and possibly beyond.
Subtropical Storm Alberto – the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season – was roiling parts of coastal Mexico and Cuba with rip currents and dangerous surf on Friday. Both countries issued tropical storm watches.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Alberto was located about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Cozumel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph). It was moving north-northeast at 6 mph (9 kph).
The U.S. was expected to start feeling Alberto’s effects Saturday. The National Weather Service said a flash flood watch would be in effect from Saturday evening through Tuesday evening for southeastern Mississippi, southwestern Alabama, and the western Florida Panhandle.
A subtropical storm has a less defined and cooler center than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds are found farther from its center. Subtropical storms can develop into tropical storms, which in turn can strengthen into hurricanes. Alberto comes ahead of schedule: the six-month hurricane season doesn’t begin until June 1.
Parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have already seen heavy rain this week, and further deluges could leave those areas vulnerable to flash flooding and river flooding. Some beachfront and riverfront communities are already handing out sandbags.
The downpours could dampen Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the summer tourist season along Gulf beaches. Along with heavy rains and high winds come rough seas and a threat of rip currents from Florida to Louisiana that can sweep swimmers out to sea.
Red flags warning of dangerous surf conditions are already flying along some beaches. Jordan Sawmiller of Ohio tells WALA-TV that he was approaching the water with caution in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
“It will hit you pretty hard . and it sucks you right back out. So, I don’t like getting in there very far,” Sawmiller said.
A hotel owner in Panama City Beach, Florida, tells the Panama City News Herald that her family’s five hotels are normally full on Memorial Day weekend. But Julie Hilton said people are cancelling because of the weather and room reservations are down about 20 percent.
Heavy rain could also be bad news for farmers. Georgia Peanut Commission Chairman and farmer Armond Morris and Tyron Spearman with the National Peanut Buying Points Association inspected a south Georgia peanut field Thursday. They told WALB-TV that farmers are worried about already-soaked young plants.
“Just hopeful that all the peanut stands will be OK, but we may have to replant some peanuts,” said Morris.
Only 65 percent of the 2018 Georgia peanut crop has been planted.
“The crop is not growing as well as it should be,” said University of Georgia Tifton peanut agronomist Scott Monfort. “So we are getting some cases of yellow peanuts just not growing.”