Pensacola Beach, Fla. Claudette came ashore early today on the Florida Panhandle near Fort Walton Beach, the first tropical storm to strike the U.S. mainland this year already dumping heavy rain in some areas.
Claudette had winds of at least 50 mph, but was not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage. Lurking more ominously was Tropical Storm Bill, which was expected to turn into a hurricane today as it moves over warm waters in the open Atlantic.
Condominiums on Pensacola Beach warned residents to bring balcony furniture indoors, with winds from Claudette anticipated to strengthen. Earlier Sunday, a trickle of cars and SUVs with surfboards on top headed east along the Panhandle as surfers were catching waves whipped up by Claudette.
On Pensacola Beach, the National Park Service closed low-lying roads that connect the restaurants and hotels to the undeveloped National Seashore and historic Fort Pickens Fort. The Park Service said campers would be ordered to leave the area because of the likelihood of the road flooding.
Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches was expected, with isolated areas getting up to 10 inches along the Panhandle, the Big Bend region, central and southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, forecasters said.
“We may see some heavy rains as a result, but we don’t expect any high winds or coastal flooding,” said John Dosh, manager of Emergency Management. “This event is a good example of how quickly a tropical storm can develop. We won’t always have a lot of warning. This is why citizens need to be prepared throughout hurricane season.”
In Panama City, the Bay County Emergency Operations Center opened a shelter at a local high school for residents of low-lying areas and people with special needs.
A tropical storm warning covers most of the Panhandle, from the Alabama state line to the Suwanee River more than 300 miles to the east.
The storm tide is expected to produce maximum water levels of 3 to 5 feet along portions of the Panhandle.
Pensacola Beach is still recovering from Hurricane Ivan, which devastated the western Florida Panhandle and parts of Alabama in 2004.
Claudette’s center was expected to move into southern Alabama later in the day.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Bill, was intensifying far from land in the open Atlantic, and could become a hurricane early today. It had sustained winds of 70 mph. Category 1 hurricanes have winds between 74 and 95 mph.
Winds from what used to be Tropical Storm Ana diminished to 35 mph and it was expected to make landfall as a depression at the Leeward Islands early today. Watches were posted for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Antigua, St. Maarten and several other islands in the area. Ana was forecast to bring 2 to 4 inches of rain.
In the Pacific, Hurricane Guillermo continued to weaken with winds dropping to 75 mph. Guillermo was moving at 15 mph on a track that would take it well away from the Hawaiian Islands, forecasters said.