Alberto strengthens, heads toward Florida Panhandle

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Normally packed with vacationers over the Memorial Day weekend, beaches along the eastern U.S. Gulf Coast are largely empty as a slowly strengthening storm carrying brisk winds and heavy rain approaches.
Subtropical Storm Alberto was moving northward through the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.  Authorities say conditions are especially dangerous with flooding rains coming overnight and on a holiday weekend when many people have outdoor plans. The governors of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi all declared states of emergency ahead of the storm.


The storm has been mostly a rain event for Central Florida, though there is slight risk of tornadoes as rain bands continue to whip across the Florida Peninsula.

"Flood watches have been lifted for all of the FOX 35/FOX 51 viewing areas, except for Brevard County and the Treasure Coast," said FOX 35 Meteorologist Brooks Tomlin.  "There is some guidance that says we may be seeing a very strong tropical storm, or possibly even a storm with hurricane force winds, before it makes landfall in the Panhandle."

Early Sunday evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Alberto was about 165 miles (260 kilometers) west of Tampa and 120 miles (190 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, moving north at 12 mph (19 kph). The storm had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

Even after Subtropical Storm Alberto passes, there's still a risk for rip currents, officials warn.    Jeffrey Medlin, meteorologist in charge in Mobile, says even after the storm moves north there will still be swells coming up from the south. Just because it's "nice and sunny" after the storm passes, Medlin says there's still a risk for swimmers.

The storm is expected to make landfall early Monday morning on Florida's Panhandle.  Tropical storm warnings are in effect from the Mississippi/Alabama border all the way through to Bonita Beach, Florida. 

Read more on the National Hurricane Center's website.