Subtropical storm Alberto makes landfall on Florida Panhandle

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says subtropical storm Alberto is weakening as it moves inland but still poses a threat from heavy rains that could cause dangerous flash flooding.

Forecasters say Alberto's ill-defined core was located over the Florida Panhandle near DeFuniak Springs at 7 p.m. ET Monday, hours after making landfall on the northern Gulf Coast. The storm is moving northward near 17 km/h and has top sustained winds of 65 km/h.

The centre of Alberto will rumble over Alabama in coming hours, forecasters say, and then the system is expect to spread further over the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and push later in the week into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region. The Miami-based centre says Alberto is expected to become a subtropical depression during the night.

A subtropical storm like Alberto has a less defined and cooler centre than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds are found farther from its centre. Subtropical storms can develop into tropical storms, which in turn can strengthen into hurricanes.

Rough conditions were roiling the seas off the eastern and northern Gulf Coast region, and officials warned swimmers to stay out of the water through Tuesday due to life-threatening swells and rip currents.

Earlier Monday, forecasters said Between 10 and 20 centimetres of rain could pummel the Florida Panhandle, eastern and central Alabama, and western Georgia. Isolated deluges of 30 centimetres were possible. 

Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading were banned amid high surf and dangerous conditions. Gusty showers began lashing parts of Florida on Sunday, and authorities warned of the possibility of flash flooding.

Subtropical storm Alberto is pictured nearing the Florida Panhandle on Sunday. (NASA/Reuters)

The hurricane centre said a tropical storm warning was in effect from the Suwannee River in Florida to the Alabama-Florida state line.

About 2,600 customers were without power in northwestern Florida on Monday morning, according to Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Mark Bowen, the Bay County Emergency management director, said Alberto's biggest threat would be its heavy rains, with forecasts of anywhere from 10 to 30 centimetres of rain in some areas. Storm surge flooding was less of a concern because Alberto's arrival would not coincide with high tide, he said.

Some tourists said the rainy weather would not dampen their vacations.

Janet Rhumes said her group of friends from Kansas had been planning their Memorial Day weekend on Navarre Beach since October, and no tropical storm could deter them.

"We've never seen one before and we're here celebrating a friend's 20th birthday," Rhumes told the Northwest Florida Daily News. "So how often can you say you rode a storm out?"

Rhumes said her group prepared for the storm by stocking up on groceries.

"We're going to play cards and if there's a break, we'll head down to the beach," she said. "We'll hang out and see how it goes."

A surfer makes his way out into the water as the subtropical storm approaches in Pensacola. (Dan Anderson/Associated Press)

In Miami, organizers called off the sea portion of the Miami Beach Air & Sea Show on Sunday because of heavy rain and rough waters. And in the Tampa Bay area on the central Gulf Coast, cities offered sandbags for homeowners worried about floods.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a hurricane season forecast Thursday that calls for 10 to 16 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. One to four hurricanes could be "major" with sustained winds of at least 178 km/h.

If that forecast holds, it would make for a near-normal or above-normal season. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

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