Tropical Storm Fred takes aim at Florida with dangerous surges

FILE PHOTO: Vehicles move through a flooded street during the passage of Tropical Storm Fred in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

(Reuters) -Tropical Storm Fred gained momentum on Monday as it barreled toward the Florida Panhandle, closing some schools amid forecasts of “very dangerous” surges of 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water.

By early afternoon, the storm was 50 miles (80 km) south of Apalachicola, Florida, said Robbie Berg, hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

It was expected to make landfall in the eastern Florida Panhandle area later on Monday.

Winds strengthened to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) but were not expected to reach hurricane levels of 74 miles per hour (119 kph).

“We’re not currently forecasting it to reach hurricane strength. It’s running out of time because we do think it will reach the coast later today,” Berg said.

“We do think we could get storm surge as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) above ground level, so if you were to stay in those areas, it would be very dangerous,” Berg said.

Additionally, heavy rainfall of up to 12 inches (30 cm) in some isolated spots in Florida was forecast, as well as drenching downpours in southeastern Alabama, Georgia and the western Carolinas, said senior hurricane specialist Richard Tasch.

But after landfall, the storm was expected to weaken quickly, Tasch said.

By midmorning on Monday, the storm was about 80 miles (130 km) southwest of Apalachicola and was moving northward at about 10 miles per hour (16 km per hour), according NHC.

Fred was expected to pick up strength as it tracked through warm Gulf of Mexico waters.

But after landfall, the storm was expected to weaken quickly, Tasch said.

Several school districts in western Florida closed for the day, promising to reopen on Tuesday.

“Buses cannot safely transport students at winds greater than 35 mph and current information indicates that we may experience 35 mph wind gusts beginning around 1 p.m.,” the Santa Rosa County school district said on its website.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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