Fickle Tropical Storm Fred bears down on Gulf Coast
Families are enjoying the sunshine and calm surf in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Aug. 15, before the impacts from Fred begin to arrive.
AccuWeather forecasters continued to warn on Monday that Tropical Storm Fred will continue to strengthen prior to making landfall along the Florida Panhandle Monday evening, threatening to unleash damaging winds, isolated tornadoes, storm surge and minor coastal flooding. Excessive rainfall and localized flooding could also unfold over Florida and the southeastern U.S. as the storm pushes inland.
Because Fred managed to swing well west of the Florida Peninsula over the weekend and over the open, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and atmospheric conditions have become more favorable for organization, Fred is running out of time to reach Category 1 hurricane threshold and is likely to make landfall as a strong tropical storm over the Florida Panhandle. Fred is rated a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in the United States.
Fred was spinning about 35 miles southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, as of early afternoon on Monday, with maximum sustained winds up 5 mph from the late morning hours to 65 mph based on aircraft investigating the system. This observation makes it the strongest the system has been since it developed last week.
Fred was moving to the north at 9 mph and is forecast to make landfall in the area around Cape San Blas and St. Vincent Island, Florida, during late Monday afternoon.
This image shows Tropical Storm Fred over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico as of Monday morning, Aug. 16, 2021. (AccuWeather)
Despite Fred tracking well away from land over the Gulf of Mexico during this past weekend, a good deal of precipitation has already drenched parts of the Sunshine State.
"Wind shear, persistent winds in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere out of the southwest relocated much of Fred's rainfall and thunderstorms east of its center," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty.
Through early this week, heavy downpours could bring as much as 2-4 inches of rainfall total to the western shores of the Florida Peninsula.
Forecasters urge residents and visitors alike across Florida, particularly boating enthusiasts and those along the shoreline, to stay aware of rapidly changing weather conditions and to heed all warnings from officials. Seas and surf are anticipated to increase as Fred passes by, and squalls capable of capsizing small vessels can develop with little notice.
More impressive wind gusts will be felt into early Monday night over the Florida Panhandle as Fred moves inland.
"As Fred nears the Florida Panhandle, wind gusts of 40-60 mph will occur, mostly in coastal and central portions of the Panhandle, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 80 mph," said Douty. Wind gusts of 74 mph or greater are hurricane force. For this reason, people over the central part of the Florida Panhandle should prepared for Category 1 hurricane force winds.
While strong tropical storm force winds can occur as far inland as southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, Fred's strength is forecast to diminish significantly after moving inland.
The highest wind speeds are likely to be recorded where Fred's eyewall moves ashore, and could bring power outages to the region. At this time, AccuWeather meteorologists predict that the eye of Fred will make landfall in the western Florida Panhandle. But, the greatest impact from wind and storm surge will be skewed to the eastern side of the northward-moving storm.
A storm surge of 1-3 feet is forecast from east of Pensacola, Florida, to near Crystal River, Florida. However, a water rise of 3-6 feet is anticipated along the shores of Apalachee Bay, and the storm surge will be prone to increasing, including in areas farther to the west along the panhandle, as Fred’s strength increases.
At this level, low-lying communities and coastal roads can be inundated with significant overwash due to wave action on top of the storm surge.
Southern Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle are likely to be the target of some of the highest rainfall totals from Fred as well.
"As much as 4-8 inches and an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 12 inches can fall near and just east of landfall," said Douty.
Fortunately, Fred is forecast to move rather quickly this week, limiting the chances for days and days of rainfall for the region. However, just 24 hours of heavy tropical rainfall deluging the same area could bring flash flooding. As of Monday midday, flash flood watches were issued by the National Weather Service across the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and western Georgia.
Additionally, the pouring rainfall will bring travel slowness and disruptions to outdoor plans.
Flash floods, mudslides and rock slides to pose threats as Fred pushes inland
As the week progresses, Fred is forecast to move inland across southeastern Alabama, before turning northeastward through the Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians, losing wind intensity as it does so.
"By the middle of the week, Fred's circulation may dissipate enough to make it difficult to track exactly where the center of the tropical rainstorm is. Nonetheless, the tropical moisture will remain," explained Douty.
Enough rain is forecast to occur to lead to significant problems, hundreds of miles inland from the Gulf coast.
Widespread 2-4 inches of rain is forecast from the Mississippi-Alabama border and southern Georgia on northward into West Virginia and central Virginia. The concentration of heaviest rain, aside from the Gulf Coast, is likely to be in the Appalachian Mountains of northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, where over 6 inches of rain is possible.
This area of the country is one that has already been drenched by flooding rainfall this year. Birmingham, Alabama, reported 165% of the city's normal rainfall during the months of June and July. As such, the water-logged region could experience flash flooding as the tropical rainfall moves in.
In advance of rain directly associated with Fred, close to 6 inches of rain fell on portions of western North Carolina on Monday morning. Rapid runoff contributed to a rapid rise on the French Broad River at Rosman, North Carolina. Flooding was reported in the Lincolnton, North Carolina, area.
With the amount of rain anticipated, rises on area rivers that flow out of the Appalachians are likely. It is possible for some roads to be blocked by rising water.
One area that could use the rain is across West Virginia and Virginia, where abnormally dry and slight drought conditions were reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor last week. Steady rainfall in this area may help out the dry conditions in that region.
Even in the dry spots in the mountainous areas, so much rain can come down so quickly it could raise the risk of mudslides and rock slides.
Well behind Fred, Grace is forecast to travel through the Caribbean, impacting several of the same islands that were just hit by Fred a few days ago, before eyeing the U.S. There is a third system brewing in the Atlantic. Tropical Depression Eight has formed and is forecast to become Tropical Storm Henri while taking a circular path around the islands of Bermuda this week.
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