Storm Alberto weakens as it nears Florida, sends thousands fleeing

Storm Alberto – Chuck Burton/AP PhotoStorm Alberto – Kathy Kmonicek/AP PhotoStorm Alberto – Kathy Kmonicek/AP PhotoStorm Alberto – Chuck Burton/AP Photo

Slide 1 of 24: Drivers move past blocked off lanes of I-40 near Old Fort, N.C., Wednesday, May 30, 2018 after heavy rains from the fringes of Subtropical Storm Alberto caused a mudslide Tuesday evening. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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Subtropical Storm Alberto weakened as it neared landfall on the Florida Panhandle on Monday, a day after flooding from another storm tore through a historic Maryland town and swept away a would-be rescuer, officials said.

Forecasters said Alberto could bring life-threatening high water to southern coastal states when it slams an area from Mississippi to western Georgia with up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain and possible tornadoes.

Alberto’s top winds fell slightly to 60 miles an hour (96 km per hour) with the storm about 50 miles (80 kph) south of Panama City, Florida, the National Weather Service said. It was expected to reach land Monday afternoon or evening as it headed north at about 8 mph (13 kph).

"The basic idea is that it’s going to run out of real estate for it to strengthen" by picking up energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, said Dan Petersen, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Alberto, the first named Atlantic storm of 2018, spun up days before the formal June 1 start of the hurricane season.

Authorities in Florida’s Franklin and Taylor counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of coastal residents. Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are under states of emergency.

Deadly hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean last year caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.

The storm will bring powerful winds and heavy rains as it moves into the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The storm, coming on the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, was expected to scramble holiday travel.

A storm surge warning was in place from the Suwannee River to Navarre, Florida, and a tropical storm warning covered the area from the Suwannee River to the border of Florida and Alabama.

Authorities in Howard County, Maryland, said a 39-year-old man was missing after flash flooding from a separate storm tore through the historic downtown of Ellicott City on Sunday. The man was swept away as he tried to help rescue people from floodwaters.

The area had barely recovered from a devastating flood about two years ago that killed two people and damaged dozens of buildings.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Houston; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and James Dalgleish)

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