Photo via NOAA

Alberto, now a depression, dumps heavy rains across South

Alberto is a still-menacing depression after its Memorial Day landfall on the Gulf Coast, scattering heavy rains around the South and raising risks of flash floods.

As the first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, Subtropical Storm Alberto lumbered ashore Monday afternoon in the Florida Panhandle and then weakened overnight to a depression centered over Alabama. Now a vast, soggy system, it has been dumping warm waters gathered over the Gulf of Mexico in bursts of rain across the South.

Forecasters said that rain could still kill people caught in flash floods in the coming hours or days in Alabama and large areas of Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

In North Carolina, a television news anchor and a photojournalist were killed instantly on Monday while covering the weather, when a tree became uprooted from rain-soaked ground and toppled onto their SUV, authorities said.

“Two journalists working to keep the public informed about this storm have tragically lost their lives, and we mourn with their families, friends and colleagues,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.

“North Carolina needs to take Alberto seriously. I urge everyone to keep a close eye on forecasts, warnings and road conditions, especially in western North Carolina where even heavier rain is predicted.”

Strong winds and waves kicked up by the storm were expected to rapidly diminish through Tuesday along the coasts of Alabama and Florida.

Between four and eight inches (10-25 centimeters) of rain could soak the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, and western Georgia before the storm moves on. Isolated deluges of 12 inches (30 centimeters) also are possible in spots as the system heads toward the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and later this week into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region.

Alberto rolled up big waves and tides along the northern Gulf Coast as it moved ashore. Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading were banned and holiday plans were disrupted.

Safety was the priority, but having to cancel was a “heartbreaker,” said Tom Rice, a 29-year-old Army veteran who had helped with planning for a ceremony at Beal Memorial Cemetery in Fort Walton Beach.

Some stragglers defied rain to pay tribute at the cemetery’s Veterans Tribute Tower. 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.”

Jason Powell sought to keep his children entertained with movies and TV, adding he hoped the sun would come out again after Alberto blew over. “So far we’ve seen a lot of wind and the ocean is really high, covering up the entire beach,” Powell remarked.

Janet Rhumes and her group of friends from Kansas had been planning their Memorial Day weekend on Navarre Beach since October. They stocked up on groceries and settled in for card games. “We’ve never seen one before and we’re here celebrating a friend’s 20th birthday,” Rhumes said. “So how often can you say you rode a storm out?”

As a subtropical storm, Alberto had a less defined and cooler center than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds were found farther from its center.

The large tree that crushed the TV news vehicle Monday afternoon near Tryon, North Carolina, killed news anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer of WYFF-TV of Greenville, South Carolina, the station said.

They had just interviewed Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant as they covered storms in North Carolina.

“Ten minutes later we get the call and it was them,” Tennant said at a news conference, his voice cracking.

Tennant said the roots of the large tree tore loose from ground saturated by a week’s worth of rain. The men died instantly, their vehicle’s engine still running, he said.

MORE: Alberto weakens to tropical depression as it moves further inland

There are 1,036 accounts without power in Florida as of 9 a.m. due to Subtropical Storm Alberto, according to the state emergency response team.

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Kay reported from Miami Beach, Florida. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Jeffrey S. Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

Author: Jennifer Kay, AP
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