That large, slow-moving storm system that’s been pummeling the Midwest and Southeast is making its presence felt along the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama.
At least 31 deaths are blamed on the system, including three in Alabama. And Don Shepherd at the National Weather Service in Mobile says the areas that were hit Monday night, likely will get more of the same today.
Two to eight inches could fall on the already over-saturated area in the next 24 hours, causing the Weather Service to issue flash flood alerts for today. A flash flood watch is in effect until Wednesday. And Shepherd says don’t rule out the possibility of an isolated tornado.
“We’ve got a pretty strong Jet Max moving across the area,” said Shepherd. “And just about anybody all over the Panhandle, and especially south Alabama should be on the alert for tornadoes and likely warnings this afternoon and evening.”
Residents in northwest Florida to the Big Bend area are also being warned to expect possibly severe storms this evening, overnight, and into Wednesday.
Fort Pickens – where Steve McCoy is Deputy Administrator -- is closed to visitors, with the main road there is virtually impassable. Some campers remain at the park, and McCoy says they’re staying in touch with them while monitoring conditions, in case they have to close and evacuate the campgrounds.
“We have closed and asked the campers to be patient,” said McCoy. “And stand by and contact us if they need anything immediately.”
Officials in the Panhandle are warning of the potential for damaging winds. Southerly winds of 15 to 20 mph, with gusts as high as 25. The windy conditions and five-to-seven-foot waves are stirring up dangerous rip currents along the coast.
Bob West, the Public Safety Director in Pensacola Beach, says lifeguards are out in force, with red flag conditions for extremely rough surf.
“Right now (the surf) is well overhead and breaking on the outside, big and sloppy,” West said. “Red flags are up, no swimming in the Gulf. It’s going to stay that way probably through all day tomorrow. Then it will start dropping back out and it will be green flags by this weekend.”
Lifeguards were busy last weekend at Pensacola Beach, rescuing eight swimmers from the Gulf of Mexico. West has some advice for weak- and non-swimmers – stay out of the Gulf and swim either in the Sound or in a hotel pool.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross’ Northwest Florida Chapter is sending one volunteer to Jackson, Mississippi, and plans to send further help if needed. Those wishing to make a cash donation for storm relief can visit www.yourredcross.com.