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At Least 2 Killed As Subtropical Storm Alberto Makes Landfall In Southern U.S.

A satellite image shows Alberto as it nears landfall on the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast on Monday.
A satellite image shows Alberto as it nears landfall on the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast on Monday.

The first named storm of the season, Subtropical Storm Alberto, came ashore Monday along the Florida Panhandle, bringing heavy rain to a wide swath of the Southeast and claiming the lives of two journalists on duty in North Carolina.

Anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer of WYFF News 4 were killed when a tree fell on their SUV, officials and WYFF said.

The two, who worked for the NBC affiliate in Greenville, S.C., died in Polk County, just over the state line in North Carolina, shortly after interviewing fire department officials.

"We had talked a little bit about how he [McCormick] wanted us to stay safe and we wanted him to stay safe," said Geoffrey M. Tennant of the Tryon Fire Department.

About 10 minutes later, Tennant said, the department received a call of a tree falling on a motor vehicle.

The area was part of the Southeast region under a flash flood watch expected to remain in effect through Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Ground already saturated by rainfall over the past two weeks was due for additional soaking as "abundant tropical moisture arriving across the mountains and foothills will likely persist through at least mid week," the weather service said.

Alberto made a Memorial Day landfall near Laguna Beach, Fla, just west of Panama City, and officials warned of dangerous conditions even though its maximum sustained winds fell to 45 mph.

Flash flooding could take place in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas through Tuesday morning, according to forecasts.

Forecasters also warned people in those same areas and in southern South Carolina of the possibility that "brief tornadoes" could develop as Alberto moved further inland.

Panama City, Fla. – was bracing for more than 6.5 inches of rain expected through Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service's office in Tallahassee.

The storm's maximum sustained winds had reached 65 mph Sunday night — but although it lost strength, National Hurricane Center meteorologist David Zelinsky told NPR there was no reason to relax.

"The main thing we would advise people is to not pay too much attention to the maximum winds," Zelinsky said. "The rainfall threat is the main thing here. So, as Alberto moves inland and begins to weaken, don't assume the event is over. There's still a threat of heavy rains and flooding."

Shortly before 5 p.m. ET, Alberto was moving north at near 9 mph, the NHC said. It's expected to speed up a bit over the next few days, as it takes a northward to north-northwestward motion.

"On the forecast track, the center of Alberto will move over Alabama later tonight and Tuesday," the NHC said. "The system is forecast to move over the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region on Wednesday and Thursday."

Perry, Fla., has received nearly 2 inches of rain since Sunday morning, and it will get much more, the NWS said. More than an inch of rain had already fallen in both Tallahassee and Apalachicola. Warnings about storm surges and high surf were aired along the coast on either side of Apalachicola on Monday.

From the Florida Panhandle across eastern and central Alabama and into western Georgia, people can expect from 4 inches to 8 inches of rain, with isolated cases of 12 inches of rain, the NHC said.

In addition to parts of the southeastern U.S., the heavy rains and storm conditions could produce "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" in Cuba, the NHC said.

Alberto is the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season – a season that doesn't formally begin until June 1, the National Hurricane Center says.

After Alberto reached 3.25 days as a named storm, Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said that it is "the longest-lived Atlantic named storm forming in May since Alice in 1953."

NPR's Rachel Lushinsky and Nicole Hernandez contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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